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Why are statues of US Civil War leaders being removed from across the US?

“You’re changing history. You’re changing culture,” Trump said of the removal of statues of Confederate leaders.

Confederate Monuments Baltimore Workers remove the Jackson-Lee Monument in Wyman Park early Wednesday morning. Denise Sanders via PA Images Denise Sanders via PA Images

CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS HAVE been removed quietly overnight in Baltimore, Maryland, and other US cities as a campaign to erase symbols of the pro-slavery Civil War South gathered momentum across the US.

Part of that campaign was the removal of a statue of General Robert E Lee – who was a leader of the Confederate forces during the US Civil War.

A crowd who opposed the removal of the statue – including white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis – came out in force.

This is the issue that has caused two former US presidents,  to condemn Donald Trump’s stance on what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend.

In a report published in April 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center – a civil rights advocacy group – found that more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy are located on US public lands, mostly in the South.

Confederate Monument Protest Charlottesville Two people put up a sign that says Heather Heyer Park in front of the Robert E Lee monument in Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. Julia Rendleman via PA Images Julia Rendleman via PA Images

According to historians and the SPLC report, most Confederate monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation and in response to the civil rights movement.

Defenders of preserving the Confederate symbols argue that they serve as a reminder of a proud Southern heritage, and that removing them is effectively a way of erasing history.

During his controversial press briefing yesterday, Trump said that the fate of Confederate monuments should be left to local authorities.

But he appeared to personally oppose the removal campaign.

“You’re changing history. You’re changing culture,” Trump said.

“George Washington was a slave owner. Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?” Trump asked. “How about Thomas Jefferson?”

United States: The 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville Neo-Nazis and white supremacists encircle counter protesters at the University of Virginia campus. Zach D Roberts via PA Images Zach D Roberts via PA Images

What will happen now?

The fate of many statues and symbols has been tied up in the courts, but demonstrators in the North Carolina city of Durham took matters into their own hands on Monday and tore down a statue to a Confederate soldier.

In Baltimore, workers overnight loaded statues of Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and one of his top generals, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, on a flatbed truck and carted them away.

“Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted in black on the stone base where the Lee-Jackson statues stood after they were uprooted by a crane.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city had not yet decided what to do with the statues now they have been removed.

“People are rallying all across this nation wanting Confederate statues to be taken down,” Pugh said. “Let’s just get it done and move forward.”

Also removed overnight was a Confederate Women’s Monument, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and a statue of a former Supreme Court justice, the Baltimore Sun reported.

In New York, a plaque honouring Lee was removed from St John’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn today.

The plaque was erected in 1912 by the United Daughters of Confederacy at the base of a tree planted by Lee.

© AFP 2017

Read: Both Bush presidents condemn racial bigotry after Trump’s ‘both sides’ statement

Read: Charlottesville victim’s mother: ‘This is not the end of Heather’s legacy’

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