CoastLine: NC Historical Commission On Confederate Monument Resolutions

Aug 30, 2018

The news of a well-organized band of protestors pulling down Silent Sam last week has launched another round of emotional debate over the handling of Confederate monuments.  University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt says the eyes of the nation are upon her institution, and that she and her Board of Trustees are now charged with finding a lawful, lasting way to protect the monument by November 15th. 

Silent Sam, a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier, erected at the entrance to the UNC campus in 1913, was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and dedicated with a speech by tobacco magnate Julian Carr in which he urges the preservation of white supremacy. 

Duke University History Department officials have asked Carr’s name be removed from the building at Duke that houses their department.

In the same week, the North Carolina Historical Commission passed three Resolutions regarding the state’s handling of Confederate monuments that stand at Union Square on Capitol Grounds in Raleigh.  Governor Roy Cooper had called for the relocation of the monuments to Bentonville Battlefield – a historic site.  He petitioned the State Commission to give him the authority to do that.  In response, the Commission formed a committee last September to study the issue. 

The Resolutions agreed to on August 22nd by that body do not order the removal or relocation of the three monuments; instead, they call for more signage to provide historic context, more monuments to people of African American heritage, and they urge the Democratic Governor and the Republican-controlled legislature to work together on the effort.

On this edition of CoastLine, we take a deeper dive into those Resolutions, the statements of those on the study committee, and the discussions that led up to them. 

Guests: 

David Ruffin, Chairman of the North Carolina Historical Commission, appointed by Governor Roy Cooper in 2017; Chair of the Confederate Monument Study Committee.

Chris Fonvielle, Member of the North Carolina Historical Commission, appointed by Governor Pat McCrory in 2014; Member of the Confederate Monument Study Committee, Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of North Carolina Wilmington

Monica Gisolfi, Associate Professor of History, University of North Carolina Wilmingon.  She is working on a book that tells the story of the Civil Rights movement through the experience of African American farmers in the American South as they fought for economic justice.

Editor's Note:  This on-air discussion generated so many calls and emails, we're including some of the emails we couldn't read during the discussion below.

Jose:

If Silent Sam is so important to history, why not to add a full [transcription of the dedication speech] at the site? Then we can see if it is supported by the public.

Greg

Preserving these statues in place is a mistake. If you took them all down tomorrow, our society would not spontaneously adopt slavery, but many African American children might learn about those statues, and feel even more alienated by society. These statues were erected for an ugly purpose. Claiming that they can now be used as teaching aids to build better citizens seems disingenuous. These ideas are likely espoused by those who don't actually teach children. Statues, across all of human history, are build to show reverence and respect for something. Trying to condemn slavery, while actively defending the shrines to an army that fought specifically for slavery, is a mixed message. Yes, many confederate soldiers died, but they died for a purpose that doesn't deserve any statues. I believe you can look at an individual confederate soldier and say "he fought honorably", because he might not have had too much choice in a realistic social sense. But, I don't believe you can say "the confederacy was honorable", because they fought for the subjugation of an entire people, which is not an honorable act. If "history" must be preserved, we should move all current monuments to one location, with many plaques that explain the atrocities of the Jim Crow era, and the hard struggle from African Americans for their basic civil rights. This would likely cost too much money, and also I don't believe a main stream audience would care to see them. From a functional perspective, the statues in downtown Wilmington are poorly placed. They take up valuable space in the crowded streets, and block the view for motorists. Additionally, since the statues are in the middle of the street, you can't "enjoy" them in the way you would look at a regular statue. Observers would have to get into the street to read and take pictures. I don't see anyone doing this, which leads me to believe public interest in the statues is very low. Our public spaces should include everyone, and having monuments to the people who enslaved your ancestors (and plus everything after that, with civil rights, and the on-going battle for true equality free from racial prejudice...) is a certain way to exclude a huge chunk of the population. If we want to heal the racial divide in this country, those statues have to come down. 

Colleen

Silent Sam....leave the pedestals for art and ideas, and for the here and now. When we have a Charlotteville's death here... leave the pedestals for the living and study the past in the museum and classroom. 

Donnell

The Nazi camps remain not as a memorial but a reminder the evil man is capable of inflicting on his fellow man. There are no statues honoring Hitler, Goering etc. And contrary to your guests' articulation, the Germans I have encountered are well educated on their history as well as ours. 

Amy

As I listen, [here are] a couple of examples of people collectively deciding to take down monuments because they no longer believe in what the monuments represent: Iraqis toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein, French revolutionaries removing religious elements from churches and there are many more examples in the world. It seems to me that in our time general public opinion wants to remove these Jim Crow era monuments. Why not allow this moment to be expressed in the same way? 

Susan

I believe these gentleman are wrong. The monuments need to go. If one can not see that they are a slap in the face to all African Americans they are blind and lack true understanding. 

Gregory

For me, it is this simple, these statues/monuments belong in a museum where they can be properly annotated to explain that these are monuments that were erected to traitors and insurrectionists to the United States. 

Beau

The third resolution from the NC Historical Commission suggests that signage be used to provide a greater understanding of NC history. Would this resolution extend to monuments outside of the capital? As an example, George Davis (CFA Attorney Genderal) in Wilmington could have signage containing his own words when asked if NC should seceed from the Union, his response: "The division must be made on the line of slavery. The State must go with the South." IS this possible and effective? 

Tom

It seems that in the case where a ruling group of people have wronged an enslaved group of people in the past, when we are trying to make amends, apologize, or rectify the past, that the feelings of the wronged (enslaved) group mean more than the group at fault. Can't we take into account primarily how those descendants would like this handled? Otherwise, are we really showing care/concern for those wronged? 

Zach

I’m a big history fan and one of my favorite eras is ancient Rome, but I didn’t need to see the Coliseum to know or learn about it. I learned about it in school and through books and movies. Further, there is a difference between commemorating something and celebrating it. Statues are meant to literally put something or someone on a pedestal, to celebrate the subject. We have memorials to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but we don’t have statues in New York of Osama bin Laden and the hijackers. Nobody is trying to erase history. The Civil War will not be forgotten as long as America is a country. 

Paul:

 ...all those arrested have been identified as outsiders - non UNC-Chapel Hill students. [Dr. Gisolfi] cannot say all the students agree with her brand of civil disobedience and property destruction. There is no unanimity on the monument removal. Julian Carr spoke at the dedication of one monument. He did not speak for all the people who memorialize the Confederate soldier in the hundreds of monuments across the South. The states called these young men to serve and die so to remove their memorials is to disavow and and minimize their sacrifices. God help us! 

Robert

I would argue that the agrarian slave based economic model of the South in 1860 was far closer to to our Founding Fathers' way of life than the massive industrialization and immigration occurring in the North at that time, which led directly to the robber barons of the Guilded Age. King Cotton led to the industrialization of agriculture, spreading West to Bleeding Kansas, etc., requiring huge numbers of slaves, and precipitating the conflict. 

Don

With the plan to add signage surrounding the monuments at the Capital, how will the narratives be drafted for that signage so that the true history (good, bad or ugly), is demonstrated on that signage, and how do you achieve consensus about that narrative amongst the various political and cultural factions?