“These monuments represent sacred history to a vast majority of North Carolinians. Leave them where they are.”
That was pretty much the takeaway at a public hearing yesterday concerning the relocation of Raleigh’s Confederate monuments. The meeting, hosted by the North Carolina Historical Commission, asked for the public’s remarks on a semi-recent petition from Governor Cooper to remove said monuments from the Capitol grounds. Even the question of removing the three statues—the Confederate Women’s Monument, Confederate Soldiers Monument, and the Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument—elicited comparisons to terrorists, communists, and George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
The proposal came from Cooper following last summer’s now-infamous white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally, which ended with the murder of an anti-racist activist, compelled cities across the country to do away with their own monuments dedicated to the Confederacy. In Baltimore, the mayor made the decision to quietly remove the city’s Confederate statues in the middle of the night.
Not so in North Carolina. Rather than act with such decisiveness, the state has spent more than six months debating the issue. That’s because there are legal issues at play. In 2015, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law preventing city officials from moving the statues off of public property without sign-off from
. Historical Commission—which is exactly what yesterday’s public hearing was all about. The five-member committee evaluating the proposal will provide a recommendation to the eleven-member Historical Commission, which will make a decision about what to do about Cooper’s plan to move the monuments to a historic battlefield in Johnston County.
For almost an hour, North Carolinians took to a microphone in an auditorium on Jones Street to discuss their feelings about the proposal. They were male and female, young and old. Most were bound by one common goal: to make sure the statues stay put.
Take, for instance, Teresa Langley of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s North Carolina chapter.
“Our organization is totally against action by this body to remove or relocate the memorials to our Confederate ancestors,” she said. “For this body to grant Cooper’s petition would be a gross violation of state law. I would also like to register the utter dismay of the United Daughters of the Confederacy that we have been completely left out of this process. Not once has this committee consulted us for our position on the matter. Our organization and legacy organizations like it are the primary stakeholders in this controversy. It was our families who erected these memorials and to whom these memorials are dedicated.”
In total, about sixty people spoke—although more than four thousand have submitted responses to the committee. Most were in favor of keeping the monuments on the Capitol grounds. Some expressed concerns that the proposal to move the statues from Raleigh to Bentonville Battlefield is part of a subversive radical agenda to rewrite American history.
“Taking down monuments and flags
improved life anywhere it has been done,” one man declared. “In New Orleans, crime is up since they took down Robert E. Lee’s monument. Only three groups have been successful in taking down monuments: ISIS terrorists, Bolshevik in 1917, and modern communists in America.”
Fact check: New Orleans’s Robert E. Lee statue came down on May 19, 2017. Eleven days before that, on May 8, 2017, the city’s skyrocketing homicide rate was found to be worse than Chicago’s, a grisly trend that kicked off in the summer of 2016. So it seems Robert E. Lee’s statue wasn’t all that effective in keeping criminals at bay in the first place. Also, there’s a reason you don’t see Nazi symbols and imagery in modern-day Germany. They were scrubbed from public spaces in a long and difficult process known as de-Nazification. As The Washington Post explains:
In 1949, the newfound Federal Republic of Germany banned the swastika from public life. And since 1945, its government has worked to systematically get rid of Nazi-era memorials and architecture. Nazi officials were buried in unmarked graves. Swastikas were ground off buildings. Monuments and statues from the Third Reich were torn down.
In other countries, there are echoes of Germany’s approach. In Bucharest, Romania, at least six statues of Marshal Ion Antonescu have been removed in recent years. Antonescu conspired with Hitler, helping him kill at least 250,000 Jews during World War II. (The statues were not erected until the fall of the Soviet Union, when Romanians wanted to celebrate their native leaders and anti-Soviet heritage.)
In Spain, authorities have set about renaming streets that commemorate Francisco Franco. In 2006, the Spanish parliament passed a law requiring every province in the country to remove Franco statues. (Most were already gone.) But the dictator’s body is still housed in a shrine called the Valley of the Fallen; critics say the prominent placement serves only to glorify his reign.
The few who did speak in favor of removing the statues said they represented an ugly and painful chapter of American history that should not grace state grounds.
“My grandfather was a Confederate soldier,” said Emily Keel. “He was a small farmer, not a slaveholder. I’m sure that he felt somewhat supportive of slave labor. That fight may have been my family’s at that time, but we have all changed. Similarly, the Confederate monuments on our Capitol are relics of another time. What we display now to the public should be our current principles and aspirations as North Carolina citizens.”
Willis McKoy said he believed the statues were placed on the Capitol grounds to intimidate African Americans and should not be kept in places of public prominence.
“They call it history, I call it hatred,” he said. “There’s just no place for them in modern society. I was born in North Carolina, I’m a combat veteran. I left here in 1966 and went off to war and came back in 1970 and confronted the same thing my father did when he went to World War Two. Racism was there at the end of the war. We all faced the same racism. The names may have changed a little bit, but the occurrence was still the same. We fought in other countries for people to have the rights
freedom, but we didn’t have it at home. To some degree, we still don’t have it.”