WILMINGTON — Over the weekend, rioting and violence broke out in neighboring Virginia over a Confederate memorial to Gen. Robert E. Lee. While many see monuments to the Confederacy as a historical reminder of the nation’s past, others view them as a symbol of racism and bigotry, with no place in the modern world.
Tuesday afternoon, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called for the removal of all Confederate monuments across the state. This came after protesters tore down a statue in Durham Monday night.
“Some people cling to the belief that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. But history is not on their side,” Cooper said. “We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery. These monuments should come down.
“Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums — not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds. And our history must tell the full story, including the subjugation of humans created in God’s image to provide the back-breaking labor that drove the South’s agrarian economy.”
It’s no secret that North Carolina stood on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The war, which began in 1861, was a culmination of years of disagreement between the northern and southern states in the US.
According to the Smithsonian, the south looked to preserve slavery, a dying practice at the time, and to “uphold independent states’ rights,” a right which southern states perceived as being infringed upon at the time by the federal government.
As the south pushed for secession, the north looked to preserve the union of the nation, battle lines were drawn and war broke out.
Is it history, or bigotry?
The battle was a resounding victory for the Union, but the area did not let go of its past, memorializing Confederate troops and leaders with monuments and statues throughout the area, well into the 20th century.
As this history returns to the forefront of conversation, the discussion across the nation has people arguing about what’s history and what’s bigotry.
According to the Wilmington Police Department, Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning saw two of the Port City’s Confederate statues defaced. There was also an apparent attempt to topple the Confederate Soldiers Monument located at 3rd and Dock streets; officers discovered rope around the neck of the statue early Wednesday morning and determined its end had been attached to a vehicle.
A change of pace
In recent months, Port City Daily reached out to numerous area leaders and organizations, including City Councilors, the Fort Fisher State Historic Site, and members of the Brunswick Civil War Round Table, to ask about Confederate memorials. Few had much, if anything, to say on the subject.
This week, the Brunswick Civil War Round Table, a non-profit organization dedicated to studying the Civil War in our region, issued a statement saying: “The BCWRT strives to provide a balanced, well researched, objective history of the war. Each member can then decide on their own how they deal with any related political and racial issues.”
It has been suggested by Governor Cooper and others that these statues be moved to museums, where they could be studied and explained in proper context.
But, Melissa Talbert, Chief Communications Officer for the City of Wilmington, pointed to a 2015 law that prohibits the city from moving statues or other memorials, even to a museum, without proper authorization from the state.
City Councilman Earl Sheridan echoed Talbert’s statement in a council meeting Tuesday night, but had an alternative idea for addressing the issue.
“We all saw what’s happened in Charlottesville, and are horrified by it. But, I think this presents an opportunity for us here in Wilmington,” Sheridan said. “These types of controversies are going on throughout our nation and the south, and this perhaps presents an opportunity for us here, to address some of the issues about our past.
“What I would like to see us do more here, is the idea of adding memorials to African Americans, making our city more diverse as far as memorializations are concerned,” he said.
While the issue is controversial, Governor Cooper said it is a discussion that needs to be had. The south is rife with historical evidence of this conflict, Cooper said, adding that many are fed up with the “pace of change.”
“Conversations about race and our past are never simple or easy. They are deeply personal and emotional,” Cooper’s statement read. “As President Lincoln said, we must do this work ‘with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds.’
“President Lincoln was on point: we must do what we know is right, and we must do it the right way,” the statement read.