Orange County

HBO comedian John Oliver calls out this NC county over its Confederate statue

Comedian John Oliver
Comedian John Oliver

Comedian John Oliver threw a little shade on Alamance County this weekend in explaining why Confederate monuments should be removed or replaced.

History makes it clear that the Civil War was fought over slavery, the “Last Week Tonight: host said on his HBO show Sunday. Slavery and white supremacy are the focus of numerous documents and speeches, he said, like the one that a KKK leader gave at the 1914 dedication of Alamance County’s Confederate statue.

The statue was the focus of debate at the Alamance County Board of Commissioners meeting in August after groups on both sides – prompted by the toppling of Durham’s Confederate statue – rallied in front of the Alamance County Historic Courthouse in downtown Graham.

Alamance Republican Commissioner Tim Sutton, a chartered member of the Sons of the Confederacy, raised eyebrows for his comments at that meeting in which he talked about his family’s slave-owning past and referred to slaves as workers.

Oliver played a different clip from the meeting in his segment Sunday in which an unidentified Alamance County man expressed pride that his great-grandfather fought in the Confederate Army “for his rights.”

“I don’t know what his rights were; I wasn’t there,” the man said. “He was dead long before I came along, but I’m really concerned about our monument. I want it to stay. It reminds me that I’ve got a little rebel in me. ... We all want a little rebel in us, even the ladies.”

“Oooh, even the ladies!” Oliver gushed. “#Feminism #Confedera-She.”

But doing “nothing is not acceptable,” Oliver said, noting that most of the Confederate monuments were erected decades after the Civil War and as “a pretty hostile message to African Americans.”

“If we really want to learn from and honor our history, perhaps the first step might be to put most of these statues somewhere more appropriate surrounded by ample historical context, like in a museum, where people go to proactively learn about history,” he said.

Others “really deserve” to be celebrated with monuments, he noted, with suggestions.

South Carolina, he said, could honor Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery in Beaufort County but is remembered for sailing a Confederate ship to freedom and later serving in the S.C. Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Florida could erect Herman the alligator “giving everyone the finger” – “Something that says you’ve got a little rebel in you,” Oliver quipped.

For Charleston, there could be a live-action statue, he said, pulling a drape to reveal “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert.

“Why have a divisive Confederate statute when instead that pedestal can be filled by your favorite son, the actual Stephen Colbert, who will stand up there all day telling you fun facts about your wonderful South,” Oliver said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb