Council starts process to remove Asheville’s Confederate monuments

Vance Monument
TROUBLED HISTORY: The Vance Monument in Asheville’s Pack Square was on June 2, as it has often been in the recent past, both a gathering place for protests against police violence toward black citizens and a target for graffiti and vandalism. The site is associated with the auction of human beings as slaves prior to the Civil War. Photo by Molly Horak

Asheville City Council member Keith Young was named after his grandfather, who was born 50 years after the end of the Civil War. His great-grandfather was born in 1888, “right dead smack in the middle of Jim Crow.” His great-great-grandfather was enslaved.

To Young, as he passionately explained during Council’s June 9 meeting, the Vance Monument at the center of downtown Asheville is a symbol of white supremacy, erected to “remind black men and women that whites still have power; they still have control.”

Following Young’s remarks, Council unanimously adopted a joint resolution with Buncombe County to remove two Confederate monuments at the Buncombe County Courthouse and in Pack Square Park. The resolution also convenes a task force to further explore the removal or repurposing of the Vance Monument.

When it was Young’s turn to vote, he dedicated his voice to his family: “For my great-grandfather, aye.”

The 65-foot Vance Monument was erected in 1898 to honor Zebulon Vance, North Carolina’s Civil War governor — and a prominent owner of enslaved people. The monument stands at the former location of the Buncombe County Courthouse, which Council’s resolution identifies as the “likely location where slaves were sold and traded locally.”

In front of the Vance Monument sits a granite marker to commemorate Confederate commander Robert E. Lee and Col. John Connally, a Confederate officer wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. Near the entrance to the current courthouse sits a monument honoring the 60th regiment of North Carolina Confederate soldiers. Per the resolution, these monuments were “installed in Asheville and many other communities in the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by white Southerners seeking to preserve the Confederacy [and] are widely perceived as offensive and painful public reminders of the legacy of slavery and present realities of systemic racism in our country.”

The resolution has yet to be approved by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, who will hold their vote Tuesday, June 16. If the board passes the resolution, a task force will be appointed to decide the fate of the Vance Monument. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the two other markers, will be given 90 days to remove those monuments before the city and county take further action.

While symbolic, the decision is not insignificant, said Sheneika Smith, who with Young makes up Council’s African American contingent. She believes the monument removals will jump-start healing from racial trauma in the black community.

“I’m hoping that we’ll see this as equally powerful as it is ceremonial. I think it’s ceremonial in nature, inaugurating the demolition of a lot of the systems that affect blacks in society,” Smith said. “From criminal justice [to] housing, employment and education, the legacy of white supremacy has been there. And it’s time for us to confront those.”

Prior to Council’s vote, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer designated one hour for public comment on the resolution. The overwhelming majority of the 22 people who spoke supported the measure. Many cited Black AVL Demands, a self-described “intergenerational collective of black leaders” born out of the city’s recent racial justice protests, which has demanded the Confederate monuments be replaced with new memorials to “honor the many black Ashevilleans who have built this city.”

“This is an opportunity to show people like me — Latin people of this country, African American people of this country, black people of this county — that we actually stand with them for once,” urged Michael Martinez, who identified as a member of the Asheville community. “As a city, we need to stand for this.”

Some commenters, such as Leslie Anderson, favored repurposing the Vance Monument to serve as an “ever-present reminder of our very difficult, grief-ridden past.” A handful of others, including Rebecca Lilly of Marshall, felt that taking away the monuments would be tantamount to erasing pieces of history. “Removing the monuments and markers will not change the past, but it will enslave future generations in the chains of ignorance,” she said.

But most felt that the realities of the present should drive decisions over the monuments. “The removal of these monuments will only serve as a visual reminder that we are committed to community justice in the city of Asheville,” said commenter Katy Hudson. “Please make this completely superficial gesture to the community as a promise that you will listen to protester demands.”

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59 thoughts on “Council starts process to remove Asheville’s Confederate monuments

  1. bsummers

    Like I said before, take a giant belt-sander to the Vance thingie, make the sides smooth, and re-dedicate it as a monument to Bast or Ra or Flying Spaghetti Monster. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the belt-sanding. Thing is gross.

    I can remember the first time I saw it. I had come to town to consider moving there. I was stopped at the red light across the street. As I marveled at the ugly monolith, I noticed the car in front of me had a bumper sticker: “Gimmee That Old Time Religion”. The image was a Pentagram. That’s probably the moment I decided to move to Asheville.

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    • luther blissett

      There is a lot of old-time religion in the mountains. If you think that God manifests himself in nature, then the mountains are full of manifestations, whether they’re floods or lightning strikes or late frosts or hard summers where the crops don’t grow. The mountains tell you that life is hard and that life is often unjust and you do the best you can and maybe it evens out in the end. The mountains tell you that it’s okay to fail, because everybody and everything fails sometimes even in the best of times: things just don’t work out the way you planned.

      You don’t have to be born here or raised here to understand that: you just have to respect where you are and pay attention and listen and shut your mouth and understand. Nothing’s set in stone, don’t make statues of anything. Monuments don’t last.

      What’s the best we can do with the space we have in the time we have at the time we’re living at? Better than what we have now, surely.

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  2. C-Law

    First they chopped the heads off the Christopher Columbus statues and I said nothing because he was a White Genocidist.

    Then they chopped the head off the Lincoln statue in his Memorial because he dared to want reunion with the South, when instead he should have killed every man, woman, and child with white skin south of the Mason Dixon Line.

    Finally when they chopped the head off the Statue of Liberty and tossed it into the Hudson because it came from France, a former African Colonialist, nobody said anything.

    There used to be statues, art, movies and books, now there is none.

    – C-Law, 2022

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    • James

      Oh the hysteria! And you have the actual nerve to compare taking down statues of traitors and people who killed 180,000 US troops to…the Holocaust?

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    • ;luther blisset

      Having mangled Orwell, Claw has decided going to contort Pastor Niemöller.

      When people have trouble understanding words I can see why they might get attached to statues.

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    • Peter Robbins

      Bit of friendly advice, C-Man: If you have to go to ridiculous extremes to make your point, it may be that your point is extremely ridiculous.

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  3. Johnny to the A

    Did Esther Manheimer cry (again) anytime before, during or after the Council’s vote?

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  4. Lulz

    Nice comments from some here equating others as subhuman or even guilty for the past. Reminds me of 1930’s Germany. Par for the course. Of course the end results will be what they were back then as well.

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    • James

      Oh this oughta be good! Do tell us how wanting to stop honoring people who killed 180,000 US troops, something done by people in our past, is the same as 1930s Germany? Please tell us how defending slavery and killing those same troops makes you anything more than 3/5th a decent human being?

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    • luther blissett

      Which comments are those, specifically?

      There are two separate issues here. People can believe whatever dumb stuff they like about slavery or the confederacy or “states’ rights” or whatever fictional account of American history soothes them like a pacifier. It’d be helpful if they didn’t, but decades of propaganda aren’t unwound quickly.

      That propaganda helped shape civic spaces, but just because the statues have been around for a while doesn’t mean they earn the right to stay there. This is also why the “censorship” argument is irrelevant. There are plenty of books that will tell you Robert E. Lee was a gentleman and Sherman was a scoundrel and they’ll be filed under the same Dewey number in a library as all the other thousands and thousands of books on the Civil War. Nobody’s stopping anyone from writing yet another eye-rolling tome about how slaves enjoyed being slaves.

      Civic spaces have physical limitations, and civic spaces outside of city halls or courthouses or at the symbolic heart of a city are even more limited. That’s the entire reason the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to claim them for the Lost Cause: didn’t matter if it was a mass-produced low-quality casting as long as it squatted in that space. (Compare that to all the Lenin and Stalin statues slapped up in eastern Europe.)

      Civic spaces aren’t mausoleums to old grievances.

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  5. Pat

    Next, we can edit all books and remove any references that are unpleasant.

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    • James

      When you see ANYONE doing that you will have a point. Until then this is merely pouting verging on hysteria.

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      • T Haislip

        Oh you already have gone that far… at this point I can no longer say “we”.. I’m not quite sure what to call people who act like this:
        https://www.insider.com/banned-books-schools-2018-11
        https://www.redstate.com/brandon_morse/2016/09/01/youtube-sends-bad-message-censoring-famous-youtuber-commenting-sjw-abused-lyft-driver/
        https://www.amazon.com/SJWs-Never-Lie-Censorship-Tolerance-ebook/dp/B014UH990A
        https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/business/media/gone-with-the-wind-hbo-max.html

        Same people who ban that…
        Would never think to ban this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=outa37Lw2jU
        But I bet this really upsets them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxJtX081jj4

        And everyone in the cancel culture brags about being depressed… badge of honor, gotta throw a series of mental illnesses and your sexuality in my face within the first 3 minutes of meeting them… every time. Why? Identity is what matters to them, and they think they have attained the “proper” identity… so they must report it to whom they can “identify” with…

        How about – having an idea… how about relaxing and enjoying your day… how about not being outraged for 24 hours… how about not flaunting your identity and just being your unique self, a self you’ll probably have to do some serious searching to find after being told who you “should be” your entire life… Or, at least, stop demanding everyone conform to the ideals you have conformed to… learn what “respect” is… and “respect” people who do not see things the way you do – listen and learn to grow your appreciation for life and your capacity for love… THEN you can actually help make the world a better place, right now this “cancel culture” is destroying society in ways they are too one track minded to see… but a well spoken quote from the article sums it up well: “Removing the monuments and markers will not change the past, but it will enslave future generations in the chains of ignorance,” she said… enslaving future generations in chains of ignorance is *exactly* what Orwell was warning us about in his unfortunately prophetic 1984…

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        • James

          The only thing decent Americans want to cancel is racism. If YOU don’t want to cancel that then it tells us what we need to know about you. And we remove markers every day. The thing is you don’t get your panties in a bunch unless it is a hero to racists, white supremacists and those deliberately wanting us to forget what they are in honor of — people who killed 180,000 American troops and enslaved, tortured and killed millions of people based on their race.

          You want to redirect/reinterpret what the monuments were built for to hide who and what they stood for. And you have the nerve to quote Orwell at US?

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          • T Haislip

            “The only thing decent Americans want to cancel is racism. If YOU don’t want to cancel that then it tells us what we need to know about you”

            Reading comprehension is completely lost on you.
            I’ll let Malcom X speak to you, and perhaps after that you’ll get some intelligence:
            https://youtu.be/ABDZ_lz-PDU

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        • Richard B.

          Mr. T. H., you have nailed it….well done!
          Folks like James, so single minded, likely don’t know what you’re talking about, as he persists
          in calling you, and probably everyone else who offers a different thought or insight on the issue of race, – a racist.

          He, and others, really should spend a few minutes viewing that last YouTube link featuring White Boy by Tom McDonald.
          Then, guilty white folks, and perhaps slightly paranoid black folks as well, might learn something beyond their own experience.

          Would like to add a thought to the discussion. FACT: – we don’t know, nobody knows except one person, if the killing of
          Mr. Floyd WAS an act of racial hatred. And we won’t know until the trial, until there is some evidence that says he would NEVER
          do that to a white person. There were 19 white and 10 black men killed by cops in 2019 who were unarmed. Most were in self defense, as the officers were about to be run over or beaten to death. Likely at least one of those white guys was killed by a black cop. Should we be outraged? If not, what’s the difference? MLK knew the answer to this question. That’s why he’s up there with Lincoln and others.

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    • luther blissett

      You mean like the Lost Causers did for decades?

      It’s really not necessary if you don’t feel the come up with terms like “War of Northern Agression” to put into school textbooks.

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  6. Peter Robbins

    Are you sure we can’t just skip the next part? I lost the manual.

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      • Peter Robbins

        I’m not sure how folks got off on a tangent about censoring all unpleasant speech, but for the record I’m against that, though full disclosure compels me to acknowledge a conflict of interest.

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        • bsummers

          But you don’t feel compelled to disclose what that conflict of interest is, exactly?

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          • Peter Robbins

            My first reply didn’t pass inspection (though why I have no idea). I’ll try again. I have a conflict of interest because I’ve been on both sides of the issue — engaging in unpleasant speech and scolding others for their unpleasantness. My finest moments, in fact, have combined the two.

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  7. Mark

    What’s next? Book burning in America? Hey, left and the right, you marginalize each other and are so polarized you both tear at the fabric of the country. I detest what the southern states did so I agree with your premise and goal its just that your methods suck. Call me a racist or call me luke warm for trying to advocate for peace but censorship in a democracy is not an answer it is a very slippery slope.

    Try talking to each other as equals. Try loving each other. Celebrate freedom of speech and come together with mutual respect. Beats murder and mayhem.

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    • James

      Oh the hysteria. How is taking down the middle finger given to black Americans every day a “method that sucks?” If you want to understand what people mean by white privilege reread your post and imagine you are one of the people whose families were told where they could live or eat. Were lynched and fire-hosed.
      The whole point of this debate is that fact that there are white people…we call them racists… who refuse to treat others as equals. The point of protest and mayhem is to stop the killing. How hard is that to understand?

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      • mark

        “Oh the hysteria” proves my point. My post was not about the rights or wrongs of racism. It is wrong , period! Change must happen. My post was not one specific side. My post was about calling out censorship and free speech. My post was about loving each other and peace making through empathetic dialogue. Ignore MLK’s guidance on peaceful protests at your peril. Ignore the wrongs of racism at your peril. I just disagree with the current ideas of how to bring about the change. That means both sides. If I was talking to folks on the right I would say the same thing. Oh the polarization!

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        • James

          No you were engaging in apologist moral equivalence. To you, BOTH sides are bad because one side wants to stop honoring racism and treason and the other side wants to continue it. You don’t get to avoid choosing by pretending to be above it all and making passing statements that racism is bad and then leave it at that. It is the whole actions speaking louder thing…

          Leave the monuments up as is and you are sending the signal that racism is ok. It isn’t censorship to demand we stop sending that message it is about healing. Monuments come down all the time all over the place as we decide to dedicate the space to better examples of who we are now. And what makes you think based on the comments here that you AREN’T talking to the right? Good vs evil is by definition polarization.

          Please tell me the good in slavery? Racism? Killing 180,000 American troops? Please tell me how you can post here the Trumpian philosophy that there are good people on both sides?

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  8. Jason Williams

    Aside from The Vance Monument being commissioned by George Pack, financed mostly by him with additional donations by the citizens of Buncombe Co., designed by Richard Sharpe Smith, and being on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s not absolutely clear who owns Pack Square and the monuments which sit on it. Here is an article on it published in 2017 https://mountainx.com/news/a-mystery-in-deed-who-owns-pack-square/
    I think the fate of the Vance Memorial should be voted on by the citizens of Asheville and/or of Buncombe County.

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    • mark

      Jason, Thoughtful response! I agree that is the way it is set up to be in a representative democracy. I lean that way. The problem comes in where the marginalized if they lose, get further marginalized . Will that heal the communities wounds? Does it address the original problem? This is such a hard question on many levels. That’s why I am so wordy on this subject. Its hard to reconcile.

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      • James

        Please explain how white supremacists are marginalized now and how taking down monuments to their heroes will marginalize them even further? Especially compared to people like George Floyd who had his rights “marginalized” by the same “marginalized” people monuments like this represent?

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      • Shultz!

        Yep, feelings will be hurt, however, that pales in comparison to the long term damage the Lost Cause has done to our society. ALL of our ancestors did some god-awful things – we need to face it, accept it for what it is & move on.

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  9. NFB

    It’s odd that the right has such an infatuation for these monuments. I thought they disdained participation trophies.

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      • James

        Probably because you don’t see the harm in these monuments because you were never directed as to which restroom you should use in the same spot the Vance monument stands today.

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  10. indy499

    Dismantle all monuments. No holiday decorations.

    Remove all names of all people off everything.

    Rename streets a-z, then start over with AA

    Rename streets in other direction 1-however many you need.

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    • bsummers

      And other hysterical exaggerations. This is a long overdue movement to stop celebrating a dark time in our past. Nobody’s burning books. Nobody’s erasing history. We just don’t want it given a place of honor in our public spaces anymore.

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  11. bsummers

    It’s long past time that the Lost Causers recognize that they only keep on losing by harboring the belief that the Civil War their ancestors started was something noble.

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    • Lulz

      So should the communists who claim it just hasn’t been emplemented correctly. And this time well get it right. Until of course the bodies pile up.

      All I see is people that promote destruction in one form or another as progress .

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      • James

        when you can point to a Communist Party in the United States demanding we implement communism then you will have a point. For now, all you have is a straw man looking for anything it can call evidence. And before you declare anything some elements of the Democratic party are proposing as “Communist” I suggest you look up a good definition first.

        P.S. And the word is “implemented.” (If you want to “educate” us then we are free to “educate” you)

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      • bsummers

        “All I see is people that promote destruction in one form or another as progress .”

        That’s because that’s all you CAN see. Try looking with better eyes.

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      • luther blissett

        “Should we continue to honor those who led a war to preserve slavery?”

        That’s the question. If your answer is ‘yes’ or you just don’t care either way — you’re not fooling anyone but yourself by dancing around it.

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        • Peter Robbins

          And not only to preserve slavery but to tear apart the country as well. Talk about “promoting destruction”.

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    • T Haislip

      In a culture without honor and respect… what monument is even necessary?

      This is much better than a well proportioned statue or a stone carving, etc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cy_Twombly#/media/File:Cy-Twombly.jpg … it is not “offensive”… it is also “meaningless”.. but life is “meaningless” – or so that is the idea.

      Lets hang something like that in place of any statue of anyone who could have possibly had any negative character traits… get rid of them all – except for those kind souls of the “administration”… those images we must have in all of our houses (north korea…)… we must only assert the norms of our new “perfect” society and ignore any and all confusing ideas prior to this brave new world! There were never any other ways of looking at the world, we see the world perfectly, we have always seen it perfectly… Now time for your psychotropic drugs to make sure you don’t remember I told you something completely different last week!

      Yes, tear it down, tear it all down… BURN it down… and… well I don’t truly have any questions or answers – just this insatiable thirst for destruction and this absolute confidence that I am correct in all that I assert, even though I did not form those ideas in any form of natural ponderance… but rather those ideas came to me through the all knowing “telescreen”… and I know I must report any and all who do not fall perfectly in line!

      Yes, we have come that far… truly astounding… well done, social engineers – quite a feat… I know these ideas will mostly be lost on them, they will somehow find validation for the misery they bring upon themselves and others – they will find a way to be outraged, they will feel totally validated in attacking me as I explore concepts in ways unfamiliar to them… they do hate the unfamiliar do they not? That is how you get them to come back to you, to the love of “big brother” – well done.

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      • luther blissett

        This isn’t about “anyone who could have possibly had any negative character traits”, because that applies to everyone. It’s about civic spaces.

        What are civic spaces? They are the spaces devoted to government and rule of law, the spaces that define the common identity of a city. To memorialize the confederacy is to memorialize the bloody fight for a different government and a different rule of law.

        The movement to erect those statues in front of courthouses and city halls was intended to say “the slave states may have lost the on the battlefield, but white supremacy won the political war.” Preserving confederate memorials in civic spaces “because it’s history” is like retaining Whites Only and Coloreds Only bathrooms in City Hall or the county courthouse or the visitor pavilion on Pack Square to teach people that those spaces once had segregated bathrooms.

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  12. Lee

    Do whatever u want to the statues. However don’t think for a second this will improve black lives. Education and keeping families together will do that. Blaming Confederate statues for your plight will never help you improve

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    • James

      It will be a start. Because it will send the message to racists (and especially the racist cops among the good ones) that this kind of thinking and behavior is no longer welcome here. If you want them to stay why don’t you tell us WHY? And what symbol YOU think it sends that you are so demanding that we keep them in place?

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      • T Haislip

        The underlying concept is as follows… history should be *acknowledged*… so we *learn* from it. In a basic sense many of these statues/monuments are works of art and should be preserved as such. Gone with the Wind is a work of art – a piece of American history… gone off of HBO because of selective outrage. You can watch dystopian horror films where murderous maniacs kill without discretion – but you cannot watch a historical film of great significance? How does that compute? When will you ever be satisfied, when there is nothing but rubble? Does that make you “feel better”?

        Cancel culture is destructive – what exactly do you want to *create*? Perhaps instead of destroying statues you can *create* something meaningful… how did racism come to the forefront of your consideration anyway? Perhaps if we as a whole were more focused on, for example, saving the environment we could *come together* upon a common goal… solving our collective issues rather than laser focusing on any and ever divisive element.

        “And what symbol YOU think it sends that you are so demanding that we keep them in place?”
        I don’t place that much significance upon statues or the titles of buildings/streets… anyone so concerned about such things will likely always find something to nitpick. However, keeping them as those who constructed them wished them to be indicates a respect for our past – an acknowledgement of both *good* and *bad*… because whether you like them or not – some of the “founding fathers” you so well despise set forth to create the society you currently enjoy… the concepts of free speech etc were fundamental. It is our solemn duty to carry the torch *forward*, not to snuff it out and try to ignite a communist “utopia”… that sparks nothing but a timebomb.
        I cite Orwell once more in reminding what was the purpose of the Ministry Of Truth – to not only erase history – but to completely obfuscate the past to the extent anyone living in the present had nothing to base their lives upon save for the dictates of big brother… thus they did not know what they were missing out on. Say, I remember a world where kids used to roam the streets (within reason) – I was one of them… I remember a world where people could sit and be present, before damn near everyone was obsessed with a device… a world before we had social media outlets – where our ideas were much more private… even that concept of private… and this world is unknown, it is being obfuscated upon the eyes of those born most recently… they see the world completely differently – and the erasure of historical monuments is no more than the “Ministry of Truth” obfuscating history to serve the needs of those requiring an obedient populace that will hate and love on command…
        In time, mostly due to these “cancel culture” efforts, it becomes increasingly difficult to even have a conversation of this nature… they are so well compartmentalized – they are so *disconnected* from our social reality because they are *disconnected* from our social past… etiquette is meaningless – they believe it is disrespectful to look someone in the eye, or are outright afraid of it… basic communication is almost impossible with some people, yet they relish in their inabilities and do not seek to improve… this keeps them completely compartmentalized – so they would happily stand in line, staring at a phone, and talk to none other than those filtered through the device… and that culture is a purposeful creation, it has given rise to some of the most horrible and hateful people I have ever seen in my lifetime – they are nothing more than useful idiots, ultimately setting forth to self destruct…
        And yes, there IS correlation with the focus on the most divisive elements… to keep us forever fighting eachother… do we need to move that statue – or do we need to create a society that holds scientists above movie stars? We only have a finite time… and it is so precious – it pains me to see otherwise neighbors fighting over frivolous cosmetic differences… particularly in discussions like this – where I find resistance in saying “I treat everyone the same”… because some people have been programmed to automatically respond negatively to what is actually a unifying statement… “war is peace” in the eyes of these individuals… and ultimately those who are not so hellbent on destruction realize you will NOT be satisfied with tearing down a statue in a park – so we’d rather stop you before you even get started… because, eventually, you want to tear down the very fabric of our society.. and, frankly, I don’t think you are even aware beyond euphemism of what you are helping to build… it’ll be “loving”… and “equal”… and we’ll “finally” have “justice”… the DEVIL is in the details – I suggest you look closely at what is meant by the euphemistic phrases thrown around by those who wish to control the world and use you as a means to that end….
        And I’m going to throw this video up here again… it is again relevant: https://youtu.be/ABDZ_lz-PDU

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  13. cecil bothwell

    A modest suggestion I made in June 2015.

    “There is no major thoroughfare in Asheville named for a local African-American citizen, while a handful are named for former slave-owners. Newton Sheppard was the first African-American to serve as an elected official here, being elected to the Board of Aldermen in the 1880s. Honoring his service and history-making tenure would be a very appropriate step in raising awareness of the contribution to this city of a long-oppressed minority.”

    “When I-240 was blasted through downtown Asheville decades ago, the old route of Broadway was bissected. The result is what we see today, where Broadway becomes Merrimon and N. Lexington segues into north Broadway. Renaming that section of Broadway as Newton Sheppard Boulevard would eliminate the confusion experienced by tourists and locals alike.”

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