State and local NAACP leaders warned Thursday that Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature are fostering a climate that is feeding racism and hate in North Carolina.
The Rev. William Barber spoke at a rally outside the old Orange County courthouse, two days before another planned rally in Hillsborough celebrates the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage.
Barber, historian Tim Tyson and others told about 200 people that Confederate monuments were not really about the Civil War.
Instead, most of the 100 or so monuments in the state were erected a half century afterward and reflected a resurgent white supremacist movement that had regained power in the South.
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At the 1913 dedication of Silent Sam, UNC’s monument to Confederate soldiers, for example, industrialist Julian S. Carr bragged in his speech that he had “horse whipped a Negro wench until her skirt hung in shreds because she had publicly insulted a Southern lady,” Tyson said.
Thursday’s rally marked the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Speakers criticized state legislation that shortened the early-voting period and made other changes they said will make it harder for people to vote.
But the focus was on symbols, especially since the fatal shootings of nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., in June.
At a time when states are reconsidering the Confederate flag, NAACP field director Laurel Ashton said, North Carolina lawmakers are protecting Confederate flag license plates and prohibiting local governments from removing monuments from public property.
“But let me tell you what the real tragedy is,” Ashton said. “These very people – those who will drive through the Piedmont waving Confederate flags, these very people who are poor – are hurting and sometimes even dying because of the policies passed by our elected officials.
“It is these poor white Southerners who are so often without health care, who are underpaid and need a raise in the minimum wage, who have children struggling in under-resourced public schools ... who need access to affordable women’s health care, who need an end to the death penalty, who need emergency unemployment and the Earned Income Tax Credit,” Ashton continued. “But instead they get a flag and a monument. And they have been fooled into believing that this is enough.”
The emphasis on divisive symbols has not just diverted attention, it has emboldened racists, Barber said.
In recent weeks, he said, the NAACP has seen comments from people asking when blacks will get over slavery or stating that blacks should be grateful because slavery was “your ticket” out of Africa, where today they’d be dying of AIDS, Ebola and other ills.
Another warned against pushing the “good old boys” too far.
“That Confederate flag does not represent honor,” Barber said, returning to symbolism. “It represents dishonor. It always has, and it does now. It represents the protection of white supremacy.
“And if you push white supremacy to the -nth degree, it means you have a right to kill or destroy anybody that’s not like you,” he said. “That’s dangerous. It’s dangerous, yes, in the mind of Dylann Roof, but it’s even more dangerous when it is supported by governors and legislatures of the state. Because it gives a legitimacy to it.”
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Saturday’s Southern Heritage Rally takes place from 2-4 p.m. outside Hillsborough Town Hall, the same day the town expects 850 riders for the Tarwheels Bicycling Club’s 2015 Bikefest.
The town approved permits for both events.
The Tarwheels event, which was approved in March, takes place mostly in the morning, Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton said in an email.
“We approved both because Hillsborough tries to accommodate groups, and it is not uncommon for us to have multiple events going on,” he said. “Steps have been taken to try to ensure that the two events do not interfere with each other.
“The second event (the rally) was a First Amendment event, and we try to accommodate those whenever possible.”