The North Carolina Influencer Series

NC Influencers weigh in on Confederate monuments

Protester removed from historical commission meeting on Confederate monuments

Protester Ashley Popio was removed from an N.C. Historical Commission meeting at the State Archives after she made an outburst while commission members were making recommendations on what to do with the three Confederate monuments at the Capitol.
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Protester Ashley Popio was removed from an N.C. Historical Commission meeting at the State Archives after she made an outburst while commission members were making recommendations on what to do with the three Confederate monuments at the Capitol.

NC Influencers and readers ranked race relations in North Carolina as an important issue this election year. As part of our survey on race relations we asked NC Influencers what the future should hold for Confederate monuments in North Carolina. Here is a sampling of their answers:

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Dr. Virginia Hardy

Dr. Virginia Hardy, ECU Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs

“These individuals immortalized on the monuments are a part of American history. Hence, statues or pictures of them should be included in museums accompanied by accurate historical relevance and reference. Understanding when and why these monuments were erected needs to be a part of the story. This type of historical significance is much better done within a museum.”

Bev Perdue, Governor 2009-2013

“I was shocked at the recent ruling (that) mandates the statues stay in Raleigh. I have hated Silent Sam since the day I first walked on UNCCH campus. My stomach would churn when I walked on the Capitol grounds seeing the only woman statue on the grounds was that of the Confederate mother and her son. Our history is crucial and I am proud of it. But I also believe the entire story must be told. And, our state’s monuments simply do not do that.”

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Bev Perdue

Richard Sneed, Principal Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

“They should left in place. Revisionist history is never a good policy. Allow the monuments be an opportunity to teach future generations the whole history of the Civil War.”

Richard Sneed

Catherine Lawson, Attorney, started the #MeAt14 campaign

“The monuments should be remembered, but not as originally intended. They are memorials to a failed regime that was created to preserve white supremacy, memorials that were raised not in honest remembrance, but for racial intimidation and the recasting of history. That is what needs to be remembered, ideally in a dedicated museum that provides the historical context for these monuments and the role they have played in obscuring historical facts. 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. 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.”

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Catherine Lawson

Art Pope, CEO, Variety Wholesalers; Chairman, John William Pope Foundation

“Violent mob action is a greater threat to our democracy and civil society than a monument honoring the memory of soldiers who died in war more than 150 years ago. It is understandable that the same monument to some is a symbol of slavery and white supremacy, while to others it honors the common soldier who fought and died in a civil war. These differences of beliefs in regard to public Confederate monuments should be addressed through peaceful civil discourse and the rule of law. The violent toppling of “Silent Sam” by an organized mob, which included masked people using smoke bombs and engaging in physical confrontations, should be condemned by all who believe in a democratic society, rather being winked at or outright applauded. We have to find ways to both honor our history and remember our mistakes while not condoning criminal activity.”

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Art Pope

Ashley Christensen, Chef, restaurateur, food activist, philanthropist

“A monument is a physical object meant to donate esteem. I don’t believe that we should continue to have monuments to the Confederacy, but do believe that the stories of the Civil War should be recorded, documented, and preserved as part of history. Historical objects live in museums, so that’s the logical ideal location for Confederate monuments.”

Patricia Timmons-Goodson, Justice (Ret.) N.C. Supreme Court; Vice Chair U.S. Civil Rights Commission

“These monuments and the persons and times that they honor are a part of the history of this state. Having said that, they should be preserved. The monuments should be placed in museums or spaces reserved for relics. 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.”

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Patricia Timmons-Goodson

Pat McCrory, Governor 2013-2017

“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.”

Kit Cramer, CEO Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce

“I thought Duke University’s decision to remove a confederate monument of Robert E. Lee, yet place a plaque explaining what had been there and why it was removed, was a great way of handling the situation. It’s important that we preserve some of the monuments, but that we do it with appropriate context and in settings where they are educational and not offensive.”

Jim Martin, Governor 1985-1993

“The decision is being taken out of the hands of policy makers. Some see that as a good thing, even heroic, led by the passions of young people who take matters into their own hands. Others are offended, some of whom will respond with similar insensitive passion. Maybe we should let decapitated statues remain prostrate on the ground as a reminder that so many of us still hate each other. Or maybe we should remove all traces of the past, and pretend it never happened. Would that bring civility back? Probably not.”

Jim Martin

Michael Marsicano, Foundation For The Carolinas CEO

“They should be moved to indoor history museums for people to learn our history in the context of the time but they should not occupy civic or celebratory spaces in our communities.”

Mark Jewell, North Carolina Association of Educators president

“The General Assembly should change its 2015 law so there is a better path forward to remove or relocate these monuments. We should be a welcoming state to all.”

Thomas Stith, Former Chief of Staff under Gov. Pat McCrory

“North Carolina has a process in place to address this question. While their original intent was to honor Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War they have grown to symbolize the abhorrent policies of racial discrimination. 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. The crisis in Chicago for example is not symbolic, it is a clear and present danger to the lives of the city’s people. Issues ranging from health disparities to the education gap are clear and present dangers to communities throughout our state. 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.”

Thomas Stith

Sallie Shuping Russell, former managing director, BlackRock

“Having been on the UNC Board of Trustees when we passed the initiative to rename Saunders Hall and to curate campus monuments, I have thought intensely about this question for many years. Given that, I personally think they should be moved off of major public spaces. Regardless of the original intent when they were erected, today their presence connotes suppression to a large part of our citizenry. And even if that citizenry is in the minority of public opinion, their historical experience is so heinously different than those of the majority that I feel their view MUST carry more weight. I don’t care whether the statues were or were not erected as part of a white supremacy plan. I think we should listen when a large part of the African-American population publicly explains how those statues make them feel. To me the analogy would be to ask Jews to accept statues of fallen Nazi soldiers on public grounds, claiming that lots of Nazi were young men and simply following orders. That would never be allowed. So why do we ask our black citizens to put aside their feelings here? I am a native Southerner. My family has been in NC since the late 1600s. I empathize with the argument that these monuments honored those native sons who fought in terrible battle conditions, many left in fields where they fell, unburied, as opposed to union troops whose corpses were taken to federal cemeteries. I feel that pain. And for that reason I think there was a time when monuments to those fallen was understandable. However, time has run its course. We need to hear what our African-American neighbors are saying. These monuments are oppressive to them. One of this country’s strengths is listening to minority opinions and not totally relying on majority votes. It is time to call upon our better angels and listen to our neighbors. Many of these monuments have been standing over 100 years. That is a reasonable time to honor confederate war dead. Listen to the living. Take them down.”

Sallie Shuping-Russell

Mike Easley, Governor 2001-2009

“They should be placed with other historical items and remind us of a terrible and shameful era that we as Americans must be vigilant never to repeat as a nation. Where they are visible has to be decided in a thoughtful cooperative manner.”

Cyndee Patterson, President, The Lee Institute

“There may be a place to recognize, not honor, those that served in the Confederacy. It may be in history museums, on battlefields, places to recognize all those that died on both sides. I believe this issue exists because of “honoring” only the confederate side of the war. The war in which the the most citizens and soldiers died in US history deserves to be discussed and for citizens to develop a shared respect for all the lives that were lost. Some of those were Union soldiers, some Confederate soldiers, some were slaves and some were citizens caught in the circumstances of war. It is time for us to change the narrative and honor the tragedy of the history and circumstance that lead us to the war and be grateful that our country survived.”

Sharon Decker, COO of Tryon Equestrian Partners

“I don’t think it necessary to remove all of the statues. If we removed all of the statues of American leaders for the variety of sins they committed, we would likely eliminate many, if not all historical statues. Slave holding, adultery, abuse....well, they are a pretty sordid bunch for the most part. I think it is important to recognize all of our history. Not to glorify the wrongs but to acknowledge this is a human journey, characterized by victories and fraught with our human reality, sinfulness and even inhumanity. Pretending it didn’t happen is not the answer. Perhaps in Southern history museums or parks, we can find the appropriate ways to tell this story. Jonathan Horn, a Robert E. Lee biographer states that Lee did not want statues of himself or war related colleagues because he was worried that by keeping these symbols alive, it would keep the divisions alive. Perhaps General Lee was right.”

Vivian Howard, Chef, author, TV host, advocate for Eastern NC

“I think these monuments perpetuate hate and incite anger. Nothing good really comes from their celebration. They should be removed to make room for new conversations around what the South represents.”

Mike Rizer, Executive Vice President and Head of Community Relations at Wells Fargo

“NC should adopt practices used in other countries. The monuments should be respectfully preserved for history and learning but they should be moved from prominent places. Ideally, they should be gathered together and placed in a “confederate park” with other civil war history artifacts.”

James Coleman, Duke Law School professor

“All of them should be removed from public spaces that are not cemeteries or possibly museums. All of these monuments are celebrations of slavery and tributes white supremacy. The Silent Sam monument is a perfect example of that. A post-Civil War America has no legitimate purpose for erecting and maintaining such monuments. In NC, many of them are at the doors of courthouses. What kind of message is that?”

Brooks Bell, CEO and tech entrepreneur

“They should come down. The Civil war was about the economic driver of slavery, not states rights.”

Liz Chen, Co-Founder of MyHealthEd

“Confederate monuments in North Carolina should be removed from public property that purports to welcome all people, as the University of North Carolina does, as soon as possible. The Governor has suggested moving such monuments to a historical battlefield, like Bentonville Battlefield in Johnston County. There, these sculptures could be properly contextualized and visited by those who choose to do so. In response to the toppling of the Silent Sam statue last week, various members of the North Carolina General Assembly and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have gone so far as to refer to the protesters as “violent mobs” (Phil Berger). As I scrolled through social media responses to the news, a post from Brett Noble – a national 2017 New Teacher Project’s Fishman Prize winner for outstanding public school teaching -- caught my eye. Noble, who has spent the past eight years teaching English with the social justice focused charter school network KIPP: ENC, included excerpts from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from Birmingham Jail in his post:

“ This is exactly what MLK was talking about when he expressed his disgust for the white moderate, “who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”

“Just because something is legal does not mean that it is automatically moral or ethical. Slavery is one such example. Conversely, just because something is illegal does not mean that it is automatically immoral or unethical. Toppling Silent Sam is such example.”

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Liz Chen

Bob Page, CEO Replacements Ltd.

“To the extent Confederate monuments on public land or in the public square offend and divide communities, I believe that they should be removed either to private property, to cemeteries where soldiers are buried, to battlefields, or to museums, where they can be placed in a more full historical context. Every generation finds these public monuments to the “Lost Cause” less acceptable. They’ll come down one way or another, so why not remove these monuments thoughtfully rather than violently?”

Patrick Woodie, NC Rural Center CEO

“This can only be answered by asking a better, more healing question: How can North Carolina better commemorate all of its past, honoring what should be celebrated and learning from what should be condemned?

“A fair reading of history strongly suggests that the purpose of the monuments was not just to honor Confederate soldiers, but to visually and publicly reinforce the establishment of the Jim Crow-era of white supremacy. The statues memorialize a shameful heritage when African Americans were legally diminished as citizens and often outright terrorized. That era, along with much else, should never be forgotten, glossed over, or qualified.

“Should every Confederate monument be taken down? That question can only be answered through community conversations that reconcile and heal, and in the end honor the diverse and rich history of the state. I don’t have the answers but I do know this: the solution that gets us closer to healing as a society cannot just be one of simple subtraction, it must also be about addition. I hope for the day where every courthouse square in North Carolina also has a monument that recognizes and honors the legacy of our African-American citizens, and any group whose struggle has been too often overlooked or marginalized.”

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