Confederate monuments in North Carolina should be removed from public property and housed in museums or historical places or taken down altogether, according to a survey of some of the state’s most influential leaders.
Protesters last Monday toppled the Silent Sam Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, after years of controversy and vandalism surrounding the statue. Two days later, the North Carolina Historical Commission recommended keeping three Confederate monuments on the state Capitol grounds in Raleigh.
Sixty North Carolina leaders in education, politics, business and advocacy were asked open-ended questions about race relations in the state as part of the NC Influencers series for The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. As part of the survey, they were asked what the future should hold for the state’s Confederate monuments.
Among 45 leaders who responded, 30 said Confederate monuments should be removed or relocated to museums, cemeteries or historic battlefields.
“Confederate monuments should not be placed in spaces of general public reverence as they do not represent the community standards of the day,” wrote survey respondent Paul Cuadros, executive director of the UNC Scholars’ Latino Initiative and associate professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism. “They are divisive symbols and not unifying ones.”
Of the 30 respondents who said Confederate monuments should be removed or taken elsewhere, 18 are women. Twenty are white, seven are black, and one is Asian.
Most are Democrats — 18 — compared with four Republicans, six unaffiliated voters and two people who did not disclose a political affiliation.
Catherine Lawson, a Raleigh-based lawyer, said Confederate monuments were not created in honest remembrance, but to preserve white supremacy and racial intimidation and to recast history. They belong in a museum with historical context and an explanation with the role they had in obscuring facts, she said.
“As a descendant of Confederate soldiers, who has had the surreal experience of tracking her family’s possible connection to the people who enslaved Frederick Douglass, I understand the desire to pretend that our history stays in the past. But it doesn’t,” Lawson wrote. “We still live in the shadow of a history that will not lift until we reckon publicly with a legacy of multi-generational racial violence.”
North Carolina should preserve Confederate statues, because they honor a part of the state’s history, according to Patricia Timmons-Goodson, who serves on the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights and is a former justice on the state Supreme Court.
“Having said that, they should be preserved. The monuments should be placed in museums or spaces reserved for relics,” Timmons-Goodson wrote. “Our public spaces should be reserved for those monuments that lift up the highest ideals and most inspirational goals of this state. One must not forget that the leaders of the confederacy were traitors and there would be no United States of America as we know it today, if they had their way,.”
Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, suggested the General Assembly should change a 2015 law that protects monuments and memorials, “so there is a better path forward to remove or relocate these monuments. We should be a welcoming state to all.”
The law, approved by the Republican-led legislature, says statues can be relocated from public property only to preserve them or get them out of the way of new construction. They must be moved to sites as prominent as their old locations, the law says.
Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was the only respondent who specifically said the monuments should not be moved.
“They should (be) left in place. Revisionist history is never a good policy,” Sneed said. “Allow the monuments be an opportunity to teach future generations the whole history of the Civil War.”
Other respondents said the monuments can offer learning opportunities and chances for civil discourse. Some suggested adding memorials that honor multiple values to balance symbolic representation. And some said efforts would be better served in solving other social problems.
“Instead of tearing down statues of history and memorials ... build new statues and markers honoring courageous leaders who corrected injustice in our imperfect state and country,” former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory wrote.
McCrory’s then chief of staff, Thomas Stith, said the original purpose of Confederate monuments was to honor the lives of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. But the monuments have “grown to symbolize the abhorrent policies of racial discrimination,” Stith wrote.
“Regardless of their intended and/or actual purpose, they are BENIGN. Our more pressing issue is the current loss of life of African Americans in our cities across the country. ... Issues ranging from health disparities to the education gap are clear and present dangers to communities throughout our state,” Stith wrote. “The symbols of racism are much less impactful than the realities played out daily in growing economic divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘the-have-nots.’”
Art Pope,CEO of Variety Wholesalers, and Paul Valone, president of Grassroots North Carolina, criticized the way protesters took down Silent Sam.
“‘Tolerance,’ as the left so often demands, must include tolerance even for historical commemoratives with which one disagrees,” Valone wrote.
“These differences of beliefs in regard to public Confederate monuments should be addressed through peaceful civil discourse and the rule of law,” he wrote. “We have to find ways to both honor our history and remember our mistakes while not condoning criminal activity.”
About the series
This is the sixth in a series of surveys The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun will conduct with the Influencers through the November elections to help focus media and candidate discussion around the policy issues of most importance to North Carolinians. This report focused on the future of Confederate monuments as part of a survey of open-ended questions on race relations in North Carolina. In two weeks, look for the report on all of the responses on race relations.
David Raynor and Nancy Webb contributed to this report.