Letters to the Editor

More of what you’re saying: Mesa Somer, Mitchell Simpson, Mel Williams, Harry W. Watt, Robert L. Porreca, Arlen Custer, Peter Booth and Gerald Wayne Harris

Let us remember the slaves

We should not erase our history.

So let us erect monuments and memorials to the untold hundreds of thousands of men and women who were forced into slavery and spent their lives abused and diminished so that others could profit.

Let us remember them; the geniuses that were lost, the great hearts, minds and talents that were squandered and wasted. Let us raise up a great monument to the mothers whose hearts were broken as their children were sold away, to the young girls who were raped as a matter of course by their masters, to the men who were beaten and whipped and often killed.

No, let us not erase our history; let us pay mournful homage to the slaves who never had a chance at the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” enshrined in our nation’s founding documents.

And let us remember the men who fought to keep them in boundage with shame.

Mesa Somer


Sam has never been silent

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s a statue worth?

Just down Franklin Street from University Baptist Church, in a grove of hardwood trees on the UNC campus, a lone sentry on a stone pedestal stands vigil facing north. Silent Sam, like scores of other Confederate memorials across the American South, was erected decades after the Civil War by people intent on revering the memory of those who fought for a lost cause: the defense of slavery.

The recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, serves notice that the same fear-stoked ignorance and evil rage which cost Jesus of Nazareth his life are ominously alive and festering among us.

When newspaper editor Tess Flanders, in a 1911 article discussing journalism and publicity, noted that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” she nailed it. A visual image is far more effective in conveying emotion than mere words on a page.

Or so we’ve been taught. We’ve also been taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me,” a well-worn rhyme first noted in a March 1862 publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Christian Recorder, intended to persuade young black victims of name-calling to ignore taunts and refrain from physical retaliation.

Interesting, is it not, that from the earliest years of the Civil War, young African-Americans were being urged to remain calm in the face of hatred. Was that good advice?

What would Silent Sam say, if he could speak? Probably something similar to the vitriol spewed by Confederate veteran Julian Carr, the Durham business-man for whom Carrboro is named, who spoke at Silent Sam’s dedication in 1913, smugly recalling his public whipping of a young black woman accused of insubordination toward her white superiors.

Fact is, Silent Sam has never been silent. His very presence embodies the stubborn refusal of Confederate hard-liners to admit the deliberate evil of their miscalculated slavery defense. Silent Sam shouts to every passerby, “I will not confess my complicity in the sinfulness of slavery. I do not admit guilt. I will never ask forgiveness.”

Hebrew scripture gives eloquent voice to God’s compassionate love: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). Silent Sam’s mute defiance is far more sinister than a thousand verbal racist diatribes. Words can harm us, whether spoken or etched in the cold bronze of a soldierly memorial. As long as he is allowed his non-repentant perch, he discourages the humble pursuit of forgiveness among any white supremacists who pass his way. Scripture prohibits our erecting any graven image that might usurp God’s rightful place in our hearts. No statue is worth that.

If we truly want God to heal our land, a good place to start would be the orderly and peaceful removal of Silent Sam from our beloved campus where, as an undergraduate, I wandered beneath his shadow, unmindful of the suffering endured by all those denied freedom’s dignity during the cruel regime this statue venerates.

Dr. Mitchell Simpson

Pastor, University Baptist Church

Chapel Hill

The fierce urgency of now

In the turbulence of the Charlottesville hatred and violence, in the turbulence of President Trump’s useless remarks, in the turbulence of the dismantling of the courthouse confederate monument and defacing of the Duke Chapel Robert E. Lee statue, where do we turn for moral leadership and guidance?

I’m grateful for the political, civic, and faith leaders who are giving a clear and decisive denouncement of kkk, nazi, alt-right hatred. We all need to declare that racism, which is at the root of poverty, must be dismantled. Racial equity training now must be a requirement for all of us, so that we can see the insidious way that white supremacy has been entrenched in the sectors and systems of our society, including the glorification of slavery symbolized in confederate statues.

We’ve got work to do – unfinished business of many generations. The fact that hatred continues to rear its ugly head is an indictment of our faith communities and civic organizations. We may be tempted to say, “This is not my problem,” but that response is unacceptable. As my mentor, Rabbi Abraham Heschel said many times, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

What values will guide us as we face this “fierce urgency of now” (Dr. King’s term)? From my own faith tradition, I keep hearing the lilting words of an old hymn: “We’ve a story to tell to the nations …a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light.”

Now is the time for truth and mercy, peace and light to become realities. We send a rebuke to the lies, hatred, indifference, and darkness. It’s time to rise, speak and live our guiding values, “the story of peace and light.”

The Rev. Mel Williams

Coordinator, End Poverty Durham

Pastor emeritus, Watts Street Baptist Church


Part of our history

I feel a kinship to the stature of the Confederate soldier that was vandalized Monday evening by a group of protesters. As a native of Durham who lived there until 1950, I used to stand with my grandfather, William Walter Harris, known as “the knife trader,” beneath that stature as he would discuss pocket knives with anybody and everybody who would listen.

Grandpa would trade knives with judges, lawyers, policemen and pedestrians of any color. My grandpa Harris was a colorful personality who wore coat and tie all four seasons, no matter the weather. The Herald-Sun newspapers wrote two feature articles about my Grandpa Harris over the years. He could never remember names so he called all the men George in the barber shop where my father worked. That included me whether I was at home, at his house or in the barber shop.

I think my grandpa would like to see that Confederate soldier restored. I know I would. It’s part of our history. Let us learn from our history.

Gerald Wayne Harris

Spartanburg, S.C.

Condemning the mob in Durham

We would like to offer our words of condemnation to those that have harmed historic Confederate monuments in North Carolina.

The mob in Durham that harmed the Confederate monument at the old Durham County Courthouse were a disgrace to any level of tolerance of others and set a poor example of peaceful protest for ideas they find disagreeable.

It was also disgraceful that two groups of law enforcement personnel at the site during the monument’s attack remained inactive, disregarding their duties to protect the public’s safety and property.

The Confederate monument in Cornelius was harmed by defacing it with paint. This cowardly act was disgraceful and showed a great intolerance of other’s ideas and culture in addition to the history of the State of North Carolina.

These monuments were erected in another age when the valor and sacrifice of the soldiers of North Carolina was recognized for the protection of the state of North Carolina against a hostile foe that looted and pillaged the state during the War for Southern Independence and its aftermath.

It is our hope that the citizens of North Carolina will be more responsible in the future and will leave these historic monuments alone and that law enforcement will rise to their responsibilities to protect the public’s safety and property.

Our organization is the descendant organization of men whose ancestors were the leadership of Confederate military officers and political leaders. We are dedicated to accurate preservation of their honor and virtues that created the need to honor them with these monuments.

Harry W. Watt


N.C. Military Order of the Stars and Bars

The power of the Dukes

The hue and cry to remove all vestiges of the Confederacy and its misbegotten brother Jim Crow, is reaching a peak. The howling and breast-beating has gone from removing the names of peripheral figures, who were racist, from university and public buildings to burying the history of slavery, the War Between the States and the Jim Crow era in the trash dump of memory.

It is now time to complete the erasure by renaming Duke University and wiping the name of Duke from the collective memory of the people for all time. The Dukes held slaves (at least one according to records) and profited from the sweat of slaves they rented from their masters to labor in their tobacco fields. They no more deserve to be remembered than the leaders of the Confederacy or the racist politicians of the Democratic Party, that kept “their negroes” docile and under the boot for a century after the war.

Or, does the money and power of the Dukes (as reflected in the University and hospital) still hold sway. The statue of a nameless Confederate soldier is gone. Yet the name of a slave holder and exploiter of slaves still dominates Durham.

Robert L. Porreca


A call to artists

A different idea:

Instead of knocking down all the Confederate memorials what if a call goes out to all artists to create a modern day memorial/statue – whatever they choose – and set it next to the old Confederate one? Each memorial will have a plaque explaining what and why this has been created.

This will give needed work to artists, bring this community together on a working project and will give each side a chance to explain their history.

Each Confederate memorial will have a plaque written by a contemporary artist/writer/poet saying why the Confederate memorial is not acceptable. It will stay there so people will know the history of the site and how people thought in the past and the thoughts and opinions of people of today.

History will not be erased, but it will be explained in terms of the people of today

Carol Ruiz


President beyond the pale

Listening to Trump’s latest rant comparing Washington and Jefferson to southern generals is truly beyond the pale.

America has never been perfect and even the founders had their flaws. However the differences between the aforementioned is clear. The southern generals were all trained and given rank by the U.S. military. They betrayed that military and succeeded from the union making them traitors and ultimately losers.

I have often wondered why anyone would want to pay homage to traitors and losers. But for the president to make such a comparison dishonors the entire country.

Arlen Custer


OSHA violations

Regarding the demolition of the Confederate statue at the county courthouse, I counted 287 pages of OSHA violations after reviewing the film.

No one was wearing a hard hat. There was no yellow caution tape to protect the public. There were no orange cones. The energetic woman who placed the harness around the statue exited the top of the ladder without a safety harness. The energetic folks who pulled on the other end of the harness had no certification and no license to practice demolition in Durham.

The people who pulled down the statue might say “to hell with those regulations” and I agree. That's one reason I voted for Trump.

Alan Culton

Chapel Hill

Champagne socialism

I was appalled to see the video of the mob pulling down the statue to commemorate the Confederates from the U.S. Civil War. Many who fought were devout Christians; most of the soldiers were poor but had hearts of lions.

In our champagne socialist liberal world, people are trying to rewrite history to brainwash people as to what really happened and increase their control. We have that in Europe with the EU that serves Germany. Dictators like Hitler and Stalin did that. As a Christian who is British and a former soldier, I am proud of the great achievements of the British Empire. Many “slave owners” protected, educated and treated their slaves well and better than many of the factory owners did with their staff in the north.

Is it not strange that Hollywood vilifies great men like General Lee and General Jackson of the South but has promoted time and again, and made Cowboys and Indians into a favourite children’s game, the genocide, humiliation and enslavement of the Indians led by the blue coats from the north?

Peter Booth

Altrincham, UK

What slavery really was

I have lived and worked around here since 1981. I have heard all the reasons people give for keeping Confederate memorials. I even knew a guy in Raleigh whose family had their ancestral home ransacked by Union troops.

Then, last year, we visited the Whitney Plantation Museum in Edgard, Louisiana, alongside the Mississippi river. I saw close-up what slavery really was in this country. It was disgusting. I’ve also been to The Old Slave Mart in Charleston, South Carolina, where families were broken up like assets to be sold at auction. Back then, Brooks Brothers in New York City even made special suits to show off “bucks” to buyers. To further my education, my wife and I went to the Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel. We saw the very spot Dr. King stood and was shot dead.

What happened on Main Street was illegal. But I can’t say I was surprised or sad to see it happen. It was a reaction to Nazi-lovin’ Trump's divisive administration. It’s time to stop the drama of toppling these statues, and move them to museums. They serve no positive purpose in a public square, but in a museum we can still remember that decades later, secessionists and traitors erected statues to themselves even after losing a war. It’s not about the “boys in gray” – it was about how they were manipulated by a wealthy plantation class to become cannon fodder for an immoral enterprise.

Tony Madejczyk