In several U.S. states and communities, debates are flaring over what to do about Confederate monuments and statues in public areas. Last weekend's protest and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, followed a city council decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.
The history behind these controversies goes back to the U.S. Civil War, which raged between the Union and the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865. A number of complex issues led to it. The authority of the federal government, economic differences, states rights, all factored in.
Slavery was a major issue. Confederate states where slavery was legal also wanted it to be legal in future states, as the U.S. population grew and moved west.
A few Union states also allowed slavery at the start of the war, but the Union did not want it to be allowed in the Western territories. And in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery altogether in Southern states. Of course, the Union ultimately won the war. Slavery was abolished nationwide after the conflict ended.
And today, many Americans who want Confederate statues removed from U.S. parks and landmarks see these statues as symbols of slavery and racism, while many who support keeping the statues, including U.S. President Donald Trump, see them as symbols of American history and heritage.
There are estimated to be around 1,500 Confederate symbols on U.S. public land today. They can be found in 31 states across the country. Schools, parks and other public works are named for Confederate generals. Most of the statues and symbols exist in the Southern U.S., though they can be found as far north as Massachusetts and as far west as California.