By R. Kevin Stone
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
As the descendants of Confederate veterans who fought and died in the war of 1861-1865, we are horrified and dismayed that the legacy of our ancestors is now being not only tarnished, but destroyed. Our own governor has called for the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials across the state of North Carolina and has specifically targeted the three Confederate memorials on our Capitol grounds, including one dedicated to the women of North Carolina.
Since the ugliness that happened in Charlottesville, Confederate history and heritage has been under non-stop attack. Some more moderate opponents of Confederate heritage say they want the memorials “moved to museums” where they can be interpreted in their “proper context.” Other more radical opponents simply want them, and anything “Southern” or Confederate wiped entirely from the face of the earth.
For instance, on an August night in Durham, a mob organized by the Communist Workers’ World Party took the law into their own hands and struck down the Durham County Confederate memorial while police stood by. The real reason for this movement and these proposals has nothing to do with finding a better or more appropriate place for the targeted monuments. Rather, it involves politics, and the assumption that these objects of memory in some manner represent the evils of slavery or a defense of racism.
Certainly, that view is a result of the torturous history of race relations in this nation. Yet, consider if this be the standard that is now adopted for memorials, then nearly every monument on Capitol Square must, logically, be removed, including the monuments to Washington, to Presidents Jackson, Polk, and Johnson, and to the North Carolina governors, all of whom could be considered racists or defenders of racism. Even the Vietnam Veterans monument has become a target, as there are those who see American involvement in Vietnam as an example of “racism.” And what of the American flag itself?
Our question, then, must be: where would such a process inevitably end?
The accusation that Confederate iconography is an especially blatant and hurtful symbol of racism also demands closer inspection. The assertion is made that those who erected the hundreds of memorials to Confederates a century and more ago, did so not so much to honor those veterans, but rather to symbolize the triumph of “white supremacy,” segregation and Jim Crow. Yet, a closer reading of the orations given at the countless dedicatory ceremonies, of the newspaper articles that accompanied those events, and of correspondence surrounding that history, reveal that by far the underlying sentiment was to honor the veterans and others who suffered, fought and died decades earlier.
Throughout our history, usually forty or fifty years after the conclusion of each war or conflict, there are efforts to honor the old veterans who are quickly passing away. In the more distant realms of memory, the events and histories of young men become the reverie of old soldiers. And the desire is to memorialize in stone or bronze not just those events and that history, but those grizzled men before they die.
Thus it was after World War II and most recently, forty years after Vietnam—an excellent example, among many, being the recent erection of the monument to Vietnam veterans on the Capitol Square in Raleigh, North Carolina. Forty-five years ago the returning veterans from Vietnam came home, looked down upon by large portions of American society, even despised and in shame. That this view has changed in four decades, that those vets are now viewed differently, and that they are beginning to pass away are reasons such monuments have gone up—not racist sentiment against the Viet Cong.
Certainly, searching the wealth of documentation surrounding the erection of monuments to Confederate veterans you may find an occasional reference to the “white race” or something similar; just as in the publicity and discussion surrounding a World War II monument or Vietnam vets statue, you may locate a reference to “suppressing the Japs” or “killing the Cong.” But, by far, the discussion is about honoring sacrifice, honoring the dead, memorializing the citizens who were caught up in a cruel and bloody conflict, mostly not of their making, that affected them and forever changed their lives.
North Carolina’s Monuments Protection Law was enacted precisely to prevent such rash action as is being proposed—action which would denude us of a full understanding and representation of our history. We may not like what we see, we may find parts of our past hurtful, even offensive; each of us may find this or that event or person not to our liking. Yet, would it not be much better to take a broader view, and incorporate those memorials and symbols into our instruction and the education we provide to our citizens?
Indeed, instead of taking monuments down or hiding them, we should be putting more monuments up. That is the true spirit of North Carolina and the spirit that, I would suggest, mirrors the overwhelming sentiment of the citizens of this state.
R. Kevin Stone is commander of the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.