I have been a North Carolina resident since 1982. I was raised in Virginia, where my family’s history goes back almost 400 years – i.e, it’s difficult to find someone with deeper Southern roots than mine.
Like so many others, I have ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War.
When I first moved to North Carolina, I went to the library to get books on its history. I found one that was supposedly the official North Carolina history. It had the great detail about the early land grants, and all aspects of North Carolina history, but curiously, the Civil War and reconstruction were completely missing from this official North Carolina history. As if they never happened. That told me volumes about this state.
Later, I heard older North Carolinians refer to it as the ‘late great unpleasantness.’ I learned that North Carolina was reluctant to secede, and only did so because it was called upon to march on it sister state. After learning the history of the Carolinas in the Revolutionary War, this made complete sense to me.
Since then, I have participated as a reenactor in North Carolina Revolutionary War events, and visited Bentonville, Bennett Place, as well as many of the national battlefields in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania as well as Ft. Sumpter.
I love all of those places, but Gettysburg is a favorite. I have visited several times, spending days walking all the fields in reading almost every single plaque on every monument. (There are hundreds.)
I have also had the honor and pleasure of working with National and International visitors at the Smithsonian, and Blue Ridge Parkway, as a national park ranger, in education, or rather, what the Park Service knowingly calls, interpretation.
In in-training to be an interpretive Ranger, we were taught that visitors to our museums and park sites are more open to new ideas then in their daily lives, giving Rangers a unique opportunity to introduce and discuss a wide variety of ideas and concepts, including varying viewpoints, which they might not otherwise consider.
The Fort Sumter Visitor Center is an exemplary example of listening and both including all viewpoints and parties in its design and exhibits, and promoting respectful, civil discussions about sensitive topics, such as race relations and our country’s history of slavery. In fact, they even included comment sheets about what the visitor center should have, demonstrating the incredible process.
At Gettysburg, I, like most visitors, often feel overwhelmed by the realization of the tremendous loss of life there, in irony of those peaceful, rolling hills. This year, I realized that the grief I felt for that loss of life had no sides. It was not blue, it was not gray. In talking with other visitors, I realized we all felt the same. While we might seek out our ancestors’ stone, we are all keenly aware that each of those statues aren’t so much Michigan or Georgia, but the embodiment of the pain of losing one’s father, husband, brother, child.
In those moments, we have, on Lincoln’s words, bound up our nation’s wounds, as one people, one country.
In other words, those monuments, in that place, in that context, have joined us together, rather than divided us.
I think monuments placed in front of courthouses and other public places served for a time to help bind up the wounds of the people in that place, but not necessarily us as one country. The national and state battlefields, however, do that for us, because we all recognize those places as Hallowed Ground, the mutual loss and suffering.
Sadly, in the way that the Nazi Swastika was re-purposed from an innocent, peaceful folk symbol into one representing hate, bigotry, and Holocaust, especially to certain segments of the world’s populations, our Confederate monuments have now come to represent similar things to a certain part of our population.
In that way, these monuments are not helping to bind up our nation’s wounds, but are keeping those wounds open, festering, and therefore contributor to dividing and hurting us as a people.
I have friends who say they need to be moved because they represent a culture of bigotry etc, and that our country should be above that now. I have other friends who see them as symbols something completely different.
It’s not who is right, or who is wrong, but that these pieces of stone are dividing us now. That’s the real issue here.
That is why I favor moving these monuments to a battlefield or museum or other place of context or history, where interpretive Rangers can help people understand, and really hear, all the varying viewpoints about these things and their place in our history and culture.
In that way – in those places – these historic monuments will serve the common good.
Which is what government is supposed to be all about, right?
Carol Love lives in Raleigh.