Workers loaded statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson on a flatbed truck early on August 16, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland
Washington (AFP) - Confederate monuments were removed 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 United States.
The removal of the monuments came four days after clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia that stemmed from a rally called by white supremacists to protest plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.
A memorial service was held in Charlottesville on Wednesday for Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was killed when a man suspected of being a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters on Saturday.
Speaking at the memorial service, Heather Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, urged forgiveness and said her daughter's death would serve to fight injustice.
"They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her," Bro said.
President Donald Trump, a day after coming under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike for saying the anti-racism protestors were equally to blame for the Charlottesville violence, issued a tweet praising Heyer.
"Memorial service today for beautiful and incredible Heather Heyer, a truly special young woman," Trump said.
Former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush issued a veiled rebuke of the current occupant of the White House.
"America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms," they said in a joint statement.
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.
- '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.
Justice Robert B. Taney was responsible for the 1857 Dred Scott ruling that African-Americans did not have a right to US citizenship.
"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.
Speaking on CNN, the mayor said the operation began around 11:30 pm Tuesday night and finished at around 5:00 am on Wednesday.
"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."
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that a monument to Confederate veterans had been removed from the city's Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
According to the newspaper, the monument was erected in 1925 in a section of the cemetery devoted to Confederate veterans of the 1861-1865 Civil War.
In New York, a plaque honoring Lee was removed from St John's Episcopal Church in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
The plaque was erected in 1912 by the United Daughters of Confederacy at the base of a tree planted by Lee.
Debate over removing Confederate icons has been simmering in the United States for years as the country examines its complicated racial past.
- 'How about Thomas Jefferson?' -
The fate of many 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 a report published in April 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) -- 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.
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.
Trump said Tuesday 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?"
During the US Civil War, Maryland remained in the union although pro-slavery sentiment was strong.
Baltimore has a population of around 614,000, 63 percent of whom are African-American, according to the 2016 US census.
The city was rocked by violent protests in April 2015 following the death in police custody of a young black man, Freddie Gray.