On Monday, in response to the weekend’s events in Charlottesville, demonstrators in Durham with the Workers World Party and other leftist groups brought down a statue atop a monument to “the boys who wore the gray,” which had stood in front of the old county courthouse since 1924.
While the Durham Police Department seemed content to wash its hands of the matter, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office was not. On Tuesday, the DCSO announced that it would seek charges against those who vandalized the monument.
Even some who believe the monuments should be torn down—including Governor Cooper—chided the demonstrators for their tactics. “The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable,” Cooper tweeted, “but there is a better way to remove these monuments.”
Except there’s not.
In 2015—after a white supremacist massacred nine people at a black church in South Carolina—the General Assembly passed a law blocking local governments from removing them without the state’s permission.
There are about a hundred monuments to the Confederacy in North Carolina. They weren’t erected immediately after the war to honor the fallen; rather, most were built decades later to send a message to African Americans about who was really in charge. They are monuments not to the Civil War’s dead but to white supremacy itself, and the fact that they exist on government property in 2017 is shameful.
They need to come down—legally if possible, though we’ll not shed any tears for the toppled Durham monument or any others that meet a similar demise. At minimum, the legislature should allow municipalities to reflect the desires of their residents, not force us to “honor” those who fought in service of white supremacy.
The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville—ostensibly marching to protest the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee—weren’t there for historic preservation. They were there because they understand what these monuments are really about.
We should, too.
Memorial to Civil War Soldiers of the University
Chapel Hill, UNC campus
What You Should Know: “Silent Sam” is a memorial to the 321 UNC alumni who died during the Civil War. (The bronze statue is actually modeled after a former Boston policeman and was sculpted by a Canadian.) During its dedication, former Confederate soldier and industrialist Julian Carr recalled that just one hundred yards away, he had “horse-whipped a Negro wench, until her skirt hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”
Durham, Old Durham County Courthouse
What You Should Know: Before this fifteen-foot-tall monument to “the boys who wore the gray” was toppled by demonstrators Monday night, it stood alongside smaller monuments to soldiers in World Wars I and II as well as Korea and Vietnam.
Confederate Monument Holly Springs, United Methodist Church
What You Should Know: Erected in front of the Leslie-Alford-Mims House, the twenty-nine-foot-tall monument now sits off to the side of a church parking lot. Inscriptions list the names of the dead, while plaques on the sides remember “their sons who were in” the Spanish-American War and First World War.
Confederate Monument Raleigh, State Capitol Grounds
What You Should Know: When this seventy-five-foot-tall monument to the Confederate dead was proposed, Republicans and populists argued that its $22,000 cost would be better spent on education. They also protested a special tax used to subsidize the monument’s construction.
Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument Raleigh, State Capitol Grounds
What You Should Know: Wyatt was the first Confederate soldier to die in the Civil War. He fell on June 10, 1861, in Bethel— a fact in which North Carolinians took great pride. For decades after the war, they argued that Wyatt’s death was a testament to the state’s loyalty to the Confederacy.
Monument to the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy Raleigh, State Capitol Grounds
What You Should Know: This seven-foot statue was erected to honor the hardships faced by Confederate women during the war. It shows an older woman passing along a history of the Civil War to a young boy.
Samuel A’Court Ashe Monument
Raleigh, State Capitol Grounds
What You Should Know: Ashe was the Confederacy’s last surviving commissioned officer; he died in 1938 at the age of ninety-eight. Ashe was also a legislator, newspaper editor—he purchased the Raleigh Daily Observer and merged it with the Raleigh Daily News in 1880—and writer, best known for his book A Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern States and the War of 1861–1865, in which he called President Lincoln a “usurper.”