Confederate Monument: a Statue of Limitations

The Confederate memorial statue in Winston-Salem

The Confederate memorial statue in Winston-Salem

The other day I spoke with my friend and pioneering legislator Larry Womble about the controversial Confederate statue that stands in front of the old Forsyth County courthouse on 4th street. Larry, a life-long resident of Winston-Salem said, “I was never aware of what the statue represented. It wasn’t on my radar screen.” But today that statue is on everyone’s radar screen. Critics decry it as a symbol of racism and intimidation. Defenders say it’s merely a memorial to boys and men who died in the not-so Civil War. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines says it’s a public nuisance, and Police Chief Catrina Thompson told me, “It’s a safety hazard.” That’s because the statue has already been vandalized more than once, and city officials fear more of the same. Even worse, they worry that protests could escalate into violence.

The statue was erected in 1905 and is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Joines has given UDC until January 31st to make plans to re-locate the statue, or else face legal action by the city. He has suggested moving the monument to Salem Cemetery. Thus far, UDC has balked at that suggestion. Meanwhile, Winston Courthouse, LLC, owners of the 4th Street site since 2014, when the building was converted into apartments, also wants the statue removed.

Emotions are running high on both sides of the controversy, and local NAACP president, Rev. Alvin Carlisle didn’t help matters when he said, “The dead soldiers that [the statue] represents were racist traitors.” Those words, along with the city’s threat of a lawsuit, have only served to throw fuel onto the fire. Now, groups like Forsythe Rifles and Heirs to the Confederacy are vowing to stage protests and fight against removal of the statue.

This is a mess that began in earnest when white nationalists marched on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee. The armed protestors drew praise from President Trump despite the fact that, during the protests, an innocent woman was killed by a crazed white supremacist motorist. That incident triggered anti-Confederate rallies around the country, including one in Chapel Hill where Silent Sam was torn down by a bunch of vandals. Now, the movement has made its way to the Triad.

A friend of mine recently wondered aloud why there were no local monuments to African Americans who fought and died in the Civil War. That’s a good question, and perhaps one day we’ll correct that oversight. In the meantime, for better or worse, the 4th street statue needs to be re-located, and wherever it lands, it should be protected by a tall, wrought iron fence to protect against vandalism. Beyond that, white people need to stop glorifying the Confederacy, and black people need to understand that not all southerners are racist traitors. We all need to work together to fight against modern day evils, like racial profiling, voter suppression, corrupt politicians, environmental hazards, and budget-busting healthcare premiums. Those are the battles that should be on our collective radar screen.

 
 

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