Most monuments to Confederate heroes should be removed and destroyed because they celebrate people who fought against the United States, and keeping them up is divisive, a Baptist seminary leader and history professor said this week.
“I just find it strange to venerate someone who waged war against our country,” Brent J. Aucoin said in a podcast shared Monday by Southeastern Baptist Theological Society, where Aucoin is a history professor and associate dean of the College for Academic Affairs.
Aucoin – pronounced “O-quinn” – appears in the podcast with Walter R. Strickland II, an assistant professor of systematic contextual theology and associate vice president for Kingdom Diversity at the school in Wake Forest; and Maliek Blade. Strickland and Blade are co-hosts of the Kingdom Diversity Initiative podcasts.
Originally, Southeastern Seminary had planned to hold a forum on campus on Sept. 1 to discuss the events in Charlottesville, Va., during an Aug. 13 gathering of white supremacists and others protesting the planned removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park. A counter-protestor was killed by a self-described neo-Nazi.
The forum was canceled because of Hurricane Harvey-related storms that moved through Wake County that night.
At the outset of the podcast, Aucoin talks about the origins of the Civil War, citing the documents published at the time by delegates from the states that seceded from the Union, starting with South Carolina. Its secession delegates defined states as “slaveholding” and “non-slaveholding,” and said that slaveholding states had broken the contract of the union of the United States by refusing to capture and return runaway slaves.
“Often times the debate over the Civil War is whether the southern states seceded because of states’ rights or because of slavery,” Aucoin said. “In part, it’s both, but mainly it’s because of slavery. States’ rights is simply the basis upon which they seceded.”
Aucoin quotes from the documents’ assertions of the “undeniable truth” that Africans were an inferior race.
Aucoin goes on to talk about the two periods during which most of the extant monuments to the Confederacy were erected – from the 1890s to the 1910s, and again during the 1950s and ’60s – when social and political gains being made by African Americans met resistance from whites.
The monuments, along with lynchings and segregation, he said, were intended to remind African Americans in the South that, “This is a white man’s region. We are superior. You are inferior. You need to know your place and as long as you maintain your place, we will have peace between the races. But if you challenge white supremacy, you will pay a high price.”
Especially since the events in Charlottesville, the monuments have become a flashpoint for discussing American race relations and social sensitivities. On Friday, the N.C. Historical Commission met to discuss a request by Gov. Roy Cooper to remove Confederate monuments from the N.C. Capitol grounds to the state-owned Bentonville Battlefield site in Johnson County. The commission quickly voted to postpone the decision until April to give it time to discuss the legality of such a move.
Aucoin said there could be an argument for keeping some of the monuments that are dedicated to the masses of soldiers who left their homes to join the fight for many reasons: a response to peer pressure, a sense of defending their homeland, an economic necessity. But even those probably should not be on the grounds of government institutions, like the one that stood outside the old Durham County Courthouse before it was toppled by protesters, he said.
“Calling those soldiers ‘Our Boys,’ ” as some of the monuments do, he said, “is problematic. It’s not unifying at all.”
While the statues, many of which were mass produced and sold by traveling salesmen, may have marginal artistic value, Aucoin said, they are not relics of the Civil War itself and, unless fully and fairly explained in a museum setting, they are not educational.
“I just don’t see any great loss coming from these statues being destroyed.”