But two distinct periods saw a significant rise in the dedication of monuments and other symbols.
The first began around 1900, amid the period in which states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly freed African Americans and re-segregate society. This spike lasted well into the 1920s, a period that saw a dramatic resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.
The second spike began in the early 1950s and lasted through the 1960s, as the civil rights movement led to a backlash among segregationists. These two periods also coincided with the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Civil War.
What I learned when I got to Oregon, as I began to log untold hours trying to understand White nationalists and their ideas, was that antisemitism was the lynchpin of the White nationalist belief system. That within this ideological matrix, Jews—despite and indeed because of the fact that they often read as White—are a different, unassimilable, enemy race that must be exposed, defeated, and ultimately eliminated. Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.
It wasn’t until 1948 that the Confederate flag re-emerged as a potent political symbol. The reason was the Dixiecrat revolt — when Strom Thurmond led a walkout of white Southerners from the Democratic National Convention to protest President Harry S. Truman’s push for civil rights. The Dixiecrats began to use the Confederate flag, which sparked further public interest in it.
The new study does not provide direct evidence that those white Southerners are more likely to vote Republican because Republican politicians appeal to their racial anxieties. Rather, it suggests that racial biases along with political beliefs are transmitted from one generation to another as part of the overall culture of a particular place.
“If you think back to that culture, the role of slavery, the role of racial hierarchy, the role of racial hostility was so powerfully embedded,” Sears said.
He created an interracial intellectual salon called the Social Science Forum that featured speakers critical of injustice, a dangerous act at the time. Even more radical were the dinners that preceded the talks. He asked his African American students to come early and sit in every other seat, so that whites arriving later had to sit next to a black person. For many, black or white, it was the first time they’d had a meal with someone of a different race.
“I think he knew what he was doing by taking a side, and I think he knew he was aligning himself with law and order, especially white law and order. I don’t think that he was consciously saying ‘I’d like to whip up racial animosity’, but his impulse is to run into conflict and controversy rather than try to help people understand what might be going on in a reasoned way.”