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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : opinion : e-opinion January 20, 2022

9/19/2021 6:50:00 PM
Statues--Symbols Of History Or Of Racism

Wayne Howard

The Confederate monument in front of the Gaston County Courthouse will be discussed again in court Monday.

Most are surely by now familiar with the fact that Confederate statues were placed in front of courthouses and on town squares in many Southern cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those who have called for their removal on many occasions say their placement there was to intimidate blacks.

In addition to the statue in Gastonia, there have been moves to remove other Confederate statues in other North Carolina cities. Salisbury move one from its downtown area. In Shelby, a petition sought the removal of the bronze Confederate soldier statue on the old Courthouse lawn downtown.

The removal this month of the statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, from its former perch looking down on Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy, has brought many comments about its removal and about other such statues.

The 21-foot bronze sculpture was installed in 1890 atop a granite pedestal about twice that tall. The sculpture was perched in the middle of a state-owned traffic circle, and it stood among four other massive Confederate statues that were removed by the city last summer.

The Gastonia statue was much discussed last year. Gaston County Commissioners finally approved, by a 6-1 vote last August, giving the statue to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but then that group, realizing that if they did not accept it, it would likely remain in its current location, refused the statue.

Commissioners then voted 4-3 on Aug. 25th to keep the monument in front of the courthouse.

The NAACP filed a lawsuit. Commissioners will seek to have the County removed from that lawsuit, which claims in part that the monument's prominent public location violates rights protected by the North Carolina Constitution.

Gaston County commissioners argue they do not have a right to move the monument under a state law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly after local governments began removing Confederate monuments from public property.

This writer has mixed feelings about the various statues. There is little doubt that most were placed in locations such as in front of county courthouses for the purpose of glorifying the lost cause of the Confederacy.

When the dedication was held for Gaston County's Confederate monument in 1912, the keynote speaker, Attorney General Thomas Bickett, who would become Governor in 1917, praised white supremacy, criticized the amendment to the US Constitution that gave black men the right to vote, and told his audience that North Carolina was competent to deal with the "race question."

The monument originally stood in front of the old Gaston County Courthouse on South Street but was moved in front of the new courthouse when it was completed in 1998.

I read a Facebook post this week that asked the question, "Why is Auschwitz still standing?" The person who posted it answered his own question by saying "because the Jews never wanted anyone to forget the horrific travesties that happened to their people." He added, "only idiots destroy history, others learn from it."

There is, of course, a very significant difference between the two. Auschwitz has been maintained as a reminder of the horror caused by hatred. It is a reminder of what terrible things were done by a racist government and those who succumbed to its ideology. It certainly doesn't glorify them or their actions.

Much to the contrary, the Confederate monuments are meant to eulogize the Confederacy, to praise rather than criticize those who fought to preserve slavery.

I met a decorated former German soldier many years ago. He had never fought against Americans; he was on the eastern front; and he was seriously injured (lost three fingers on his hand) long before the US got involved in World War II.

He told me that he was conscripted and became a soldier as a teenager, and that he had never at that time thought much about politics. He hadn't been one of the 'Hitler youth.'

Vietnam was happening at the time we talked, and he said he imagined a lot of young Americans were doing exactly as he had done--joining the military reluctantly because their country was asking it of them...and thinking very little about the issues the leaders were discussing.

The statue in front of the Gaston County Courthouse was placed in its original location as a way to intimidate blacks, to 'keep them in their place,' as segregationists were fond of saying well into the 1950s. Some may say it's a symbol of history--but it was surely erected as a symbol of hate.

Lincolnton also has a Confederate monument. It's a water fountain on the west side of the current courthouse. I have drunk water from it on a hot summer day--and I'm sure many blacks have also got a sip of water there, likely thinking not at all about it being a monument to the Confederacy. If you asked a hundred people in Lincoln County (both white and black) I doubt many of them would know about the Confederate monument--or care.

When South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its state capitol grounds, it wasn't because the state had decided to follow Chairman Mao (who was wrongly referenced in that recent editorial). It was because symbols of hate and tributes to a failed attempt to overthrow the US government have no rightful place on public property.

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