GIS can expose hate crimes — and the message of Confederate Civil War monuments

I started this GIS & You article in May 2019. What took me so long to complete it? Here is what I started to write, beginning more than 13 months ago.

Back then I wrote….

“We know for a fact that hate crimes occur. Wikipedia describes hate crime as…

…a prejudice-motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her membership (or perceived membership) in a certain social group or race. Other have viewed hate crimes as a mental illness or disability. 

“Hate crimes have been a part of history for centuries. Most hate crimes occur one by one, with one or a few perpetrators and one or a few victims. Many hate crimes occur under the cover of darkness.

“It is all too easy for us to feel that we have done our moral duty by saying that we condemn the collective acts of KKK, Nazi, and other hate groups when we learn of them in history books or when we watch individual acts of hate on the evening news.

“But if we can document and expose the nature, distribution, and persistence of hate crimes in time and geographic space, perhaps collectively we can be better motivated to take personal or collective action.

“Now there are a growing number of organizations that have harnessed the power of geography and GIS to bring hate crimes to the light of day. Most of these maps you will see are a form of ‘heat map’ where the intensity of phenomena is indicated by progressive intensity of color. Here are a few examples.

“The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) H.A.T.E. Map is described as an interactive map to detail the distribution and nature of extremist and anti-Semitic incidents across the U.S. With this map you can filter by geographic location, incident type, ideology, and year or years range.


A portion of the ADL H.A.T.E. Map

“There are several maps that document lynching (premeditated extra-judicial killing) in the United States. The Monroe Work Today project is named for Monroe Nathan Work, who founded the Department of Records and Research at the Tuskegee Institute and spent years documenting every known lynching from the 1830s until the 1960s. The Map of White Supremacy Mob Violence allows you to explore and understand the geographic distribution and year by year intensity of lynching. It also allows you to identify each individual victim, and the nature of their killing.


Monroe Work Today Map, showing geographic and temporal distribution and a single victim.

“Another example of using GIS and geography to document racial terrorism can be found on the Equal Justice Initiative. This is a project begun in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson to challenge racial and economic injustice. Stevenson discusses his work in a 2012 TED Talk. EJI is supported financially by Google as part of its Racial Justice Investment Portfolio. The EJI map of Racial Terror Lynching in America includes links to many in depth stories of individual cases of lynching.”


…this is about where my article got by mid-2019. What I realized last year, as I looked at the data on these various websites and data resources that I had compiled, was that some of the data might be related in a meaningful way.

For much of my life I have been intellectually mystified and morally troubled by the open acceptance in American society of symbols of the Confederacy. I could not reconcile the open glorification of the Confederate Cause during the Civil War with the treasonous nature of the Southern States and the root cause of the Civil War – slavery. Why would some people  defend the display of these monuments to racist traitors in our public places?

Last year I examined data related to Confederate Civil War monuments and other data about incidents of lynching of Black Americans. I discovered that there were strong temporal and geographic correlations between them. My  analysis found clear correlation between Confederate Civil War monuments and lynching regimes at the time and in the communities when most of the monuments were erected. I found that they were part of a multi-media campaign to reject the outcome of the Civil War and to proclaim continued racism. I presented my initial research at the 2019 URISA GIS-Pro Conference in New Orleans.


Chart of public symbols of the Confederacy and its leaders as surveyed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), by year of establishment. Most of these were put up either during the Jim Crow era or during the Civil Rights Movement, times of increased racial tension. These two periods also coincided with the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Civil War.

Recently my completed research was published by URISA in The GIS Professional (The Message of Confederate Civil War Monuments – pp. 12-27), demonstrating that Confederate Civil War monuments and incidents of lynching of Black Americans were part of an integrated multi-media campaign in the post-Civil War era, from Jim Crow to well into the 1920s.

The appropriate place of symbols of the Confederacy is an important current topic in American life today. Many symbols of the Confederacy are being removed and their place in public locations is being questioned. When I first learned of the murder of Ahmed Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, I checked my data. Glynn County, Georgia, where the murder occurred has a Confederate Civil War monument that was erected around the same time that three lynchings of Black Americans were perpetrated.

Other hate-related data sources include:


United Confederate Veterans memorial, Lake View Cemetery, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, USA. GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 granted by photographer Joe Mabel.

If these maps of hate do not change over time, can we say that we have done our moral duty? We have one Confederate Civil War monument in Seattle – why?

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