A modest proposal for the Vance Monument

Peter Robbins
Peter Robbins

BY PETER ROBBINS

The deadly violence sparked by an effort to remove Robert E. Lee from one of his pedestals in Charlottesville, Va., this summer has prompted renewed debate here in Western North Carolina about what to do with our own towering salute to white supremacy — the Vance Monument.

As one who lives outside the city, I realize that I have but so much standing to opine about how its most important civic space should be used. Nonetheless, the mayor has asked for ideas, and so I offer the following suggestion — to which some will no doubt say I have devoted an appropriately limited amount of thought.

First off, let’s agree that anybody with an ounce of decency must feel a bit embarrassed that Asheville has given its top award for excellence to a man like Zebulon Baird Vance — a slaveholder; a Confederate officer and governor who took up arms against his country in support of an ignoble cause; an unrepentant racist who could be counted on to use his oratorical skills to whip up hatred toward African-Americans whenever his party called; and a political opportunist who dedicated his public life to returning the freed slaves, to the extent he could get away with it, to a condition of servitude long after The Rebellion was over. That part of the man’s legend should be well-known by now.

But even when he tried to do something admirable, Vance always found a way to let his racial animosity mess it up.

For instance, his frenetic push to complete the Western North Carolina Railroad in the late 1870s had economic benefits for our region, to be sure, but it relied on a prisoner workforce made up almost entirely of African-Americans — most picked up on vagrancy charges and the like — a cynical system that differed little from “the coerced industrial labor system of slavery,” as historian Gordon B. McKinney has pointed out in his masterful biography Zeb Vance: North Carolina’s Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader. When 125 of those involuntary workers died, the official explanation was that blacks from eastern North Carolina were not used to mountain winters. Well, OK then. Who knew?

Or consider the essay endlessly dusted off as proof of Vance’s enlightened side — a ponderous oratory called “The Scattered Nation.” On page after page, Vance urged fellow Southerners to eschew discrimination against Jewish people (so far, so good), but not because they were human beings entitled to equal rights. No, the punchline was that respect was due because their history and cultural achievements made Jews, in contrast to the descendants of African savages now coddled by pernicious Reconstruction laws and partisan courts, almost as white as Christians. Such a mensch. You can see why folks liked him so much.

And let’s have no whimpering about how our boy’s race-baiting was merely a product of his times. Nobody forced him to demonize blacks. The career of his opponent for governor in 1876, Judge Thomas Settle of Rockingham County, in many ways paralleled Vance’s to that point in history, and yet he and the Republicans of the day managed to stand up for the political rights of African-Americans. For a while, anyway; nothing lasts forever.

So we can’t pretend the Vance Monument doesn’t pay homage to North Carolina’s foremost champion of white supremacy — a man who can be admired as a hero only by placing so little importance on racism as to render our own values suspect.

But that still leaves the question of what to do.

The simplest fix would be to leave the 75-foot obelisk where it is and rename it after some person, group, event or cause actually worthy of honor. But some people immediately will object that so drastic a step would erase the great man from our history entirely, leaving only Vance Gap Road; his Weaverville birthplace spread; a museum at his Statesville house; a statue in the U.S. Capitol; a statue in the state Capitol; an administrative building and a portrait at the UNC Chapel Hill; and the names of one county, two towns, at least two public schools and a battleship to keep his memory alive. Let’s not get carried away here.

Another alternative would be “recontextualization” — which has the distinction of being both a ridiculous word and a terrible idea. What people — mainly historians — mean when they propose to recontextualize the monument is to leave the dedication in place but add a plaque or something explaining why we’re ashamed of the guy and wish he were someone else. Well, forget that. You don’t invite someone to be guest of honor at his retirement dinner and then berate him for his table manners, no matter how rough they are. That’s just impolite.

“Reconceptualization,” on the other hand — now there’s a word I just made up that points us in the right direction and brings me, at last, to my proposal.

Step one: Restore the obelisk to its original grandeur by getting rid of all the rubbish that has been allowed to pile up over the years at its base, i.e., the fawning plaques, the statues of confused pigs and turkeys heading north, instead of south, on the Buncombe Turnpike, and that hideous Lee tribute (more of a taunt, if you ask me) which depicts a lonely Marse Robert wandering around on his horse in absent-minded search of his Lost Cause. Letting junk like that accumulate in the front yard just reinforces unfortunate regional stereotypes.

Step two: Admit that Vance, for all his faults, at least did something right by promoting education from time to time, and if folks want to honor him for that, hold your nose and leave his name on one side of the monument’s base. But change the other three sides to recognize more praiseworthy people who made contributions to education at subsequent moments in our history. Choose figures who symbolize progress from segregation to integration to empowerment, and make sure African-Americans, for once, are represented. (Isaac Dickson, Asheville’s first black school board member, comes to mind, but I’m sure locals can think of others.)

Step three: To accommodate the slow people who still haven’t gotten the point by now, add a marker explaining what the old monument was, how we came to realize our sentimental mistake and why we added new names to symbolize something better. Start with the fact that human beings were once sold at the courthouse near this site to malefactors like Vance and go on to describe how we eventually learned more civilized ways of treating people. You know, with the help of schools and teachers and books and such.

This way, no history gets erased. In fact, we get four times the heroes in the same space. And Vance still gets what he deserves. Come to think, it might be especially fitting — in a Greek myth sort of a way — to make the fellow share the neighborhood, in eternal perpetuity and on a basis of complete equality, with one or more African-Americans he refused all his life to recognize as peers.

My compromise may not be ideal, of course. A case could be made for just knocking the old vulture from his perch the same way Yale University recently shooed John C. Calhoun off one of its colleges. But we pragmatists must be wary of making the perfect the enemy of the good enough. A historical tribute that gets three-quarters of the way to respectability is better than nothing.

For a Confederate monument, it may even be a record.

Peter Robbins is a retired lawyer who lives near Marshall.

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49 thoughts on “A modest proposal for the Vance Monument

  1. Brian

    I must one without “an ounce of decency” as the writer puts it, so no, I have no shame with history or the heritage that came with it. Everyone makes the assumption that the Civil War was all about slavery when the fact is it was not. In order for it to have been mainly about slavery the majority would have had to owed slaves and that is not the case. during this time period news came by word of mouth not by clicking a button on a remote or and app on a phone. When word came that the goverment had become tyrannical and was taking peoples lands, burning their homes and imprisoning them. The Confederacy used the Constitutional right granted under the 2nd admendment. When a monument is renamed people are led to believe that if they don’t like something they can just change the and change the meaning; it just doesn’t work that way. However it could be renamed but then we would also have to rename Martin Luther King blvd because there are plenty of other places named after him . With that being said if it is moved hopefully Vance birthplace will take it, if not I have a yard it can be put in right along with the Lee tribute.

  2. syd ray

    In the middle of the night, ANY given night, move the “monument” to his homestead out in Reems Creek. What’s right is right. Too easy

    • Lulz

      That implies that you are in the wrong. After all, if you have to sneak around to accomplish something, then you are afraid of getting caught. But by all means YOU be the first to try it.

      • Huhsure

        I took it as “do it in the middle of the night so we don’t have any more white supremacist murderers mowing down innocents with their cars.”

  3. Phillip Williams

    Just a little historical clarification regarding a “battleship” named after Zebulon Vance. First, there was never a battleship – nor even a fighting ship – of the United States Navy or Coast Guard named USS Zebulon B. Vance. Battleships, the main combat ships of the line, were named after States – the first ship to be designated a “Battleship” was the USS Texas, commissioned in 1892. The First to bear the “BB” designation for a battleship’s hull number was BB1 – the USS Indiana, commissioned in 1895. The last one, BB64, the USS Wisconsin, was launched in 1943. She was stricken from the active Navy list in 2006 and is still afloat as a museum ship in Norfolk, VA.

    The USS Zebulon Vance was a “Liberty Ship” launched at the Wilmington Shipyard on December 6, 1941. She was the first of 125 Liberty Ships built at Wilmington during World War two. She served mainly as a freighter and transport ship for most of the War – was briefly converted to a hospital ship and renamed USS John J. Meany, and at the end of the War was reconverted into a transport ship and reverted back to her original name of USS Zebulon Vance. She was mothballed after the War and scrapped sometime around 1970.

    • Peter Robbins

      So they scrapped a tribute to Vance after it became useless? I guess I can live with that.

  4. Phillip Williams

    “… that hideous Lee tribute (more of a taunt, if you ask me) which depicts a lonely Marse Robert wandering around on his horse in absent-minded search of his Lost Cause.”

    Lee only reluctantly resigned his US Army commission after his native State of Virginia voted to secede from the Union (he had been offered command of the Army of the Potomac by President Lincoln, on the advice of General Winfield Scott). And the States of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas only seceded after President Lincoln’s call to arms.

    Lee lived for only 5 years following the War, and spent his remaining days running Washington College and both publicly and privately urging reconciliation between North and South, and obedience to Federal authority. He was also known to have expelled several white students from Washington College for physically attacking local black people.

    He also disapproved of erecting monuments related to the War – and refused to endorse any of himself. It seems that he spent his last years repentant and remorseful, broken in health and spirit, rather than searching for a lost cause.

    • Lulz

      Now, now. Don’t get in the way of leftist hate. Lee is a small fish. They’re already on the Washington banning spree. Communist are gonna commie.

      • Phillip Williams

        Yes – a lot of hate for folks long dead. And it has indeed spread – noted that statues and memorials to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Francis Scott Key and Christopher Columbus have been defaced and damaged all over the country- also the stated aim of “moving it to private property” hasn’t helped much – several Confederate monuments that were already located in cemeteries and private property have also been vandalized. These academics, journalists and politicians have essentially given license to folks who just like to destroy things – don’t even matter if they are really “offended” by it or not.

        These folks always point to “there are no statues honoring Nazis in Germany” – but it is a poor comparison. The Confederates were not Nazis. In the UK there are statues to racists, tyrants, people who committed evil acts and were hated in their time – there are still statues to Oliver Cromwell, who had his King executed and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Britons. Ask the Irish and other British Catholics how they felt and still feel about him over 400 years later. Yet the UK is constantly pointed to as an example of how we, the US, ought to be in terms of gun control and universal healthcare.

        Seems to me that most black folks would be glad to sit down on the plinth of the Vance Monument and say, “well, Vance, old boy – here I am and what are you going to do about it?” The monument-haters – the white ones, anyhow – profess to hate the monuments and want to tear them down because such empty gestures make them feel good about themselves, as if they are reengaging the CSA on the field of battle, or have struck some kind of substantive blow for Civil Rights, when it in fact is a subtle racism which suggests that people of color have no emotional maturity or ability to look at the whole of our history in an educated, objective manner.

        http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/29/politics/church-plaques-washington-lee/index.html

        • Huhsure

          “The Confederates were not Nazis.” Makes sense but only because there were no Nazis back then.

          With whom are neo-Confederates allying themselves now? Nazis. Confederate flag in hand, Nazi SS insignia on the lapel.

          • Phillip Williams

            Mr. Huhsure, There are many differences between the Confederate Soldiers and citizens and States of 150+ years ago and the Neo-whatever-supremacists who have adopted their symbols and regalia in the modern day. The Confederate States left the Union individually, by vote. The last 4 States to secede only did so because of the President’s call to arms, and the prevailing sentiment was that they preferred not to fight fellow Southerners.

            Also, whatever wrong the Confederacy promoted or stood for during their short existence, they did not annex any sovereign territories or take any Indian lands, nor did they commit genocide against any group or race of people. Nazi Germany, on the other hand, conquered most of Western Europe and had their sights on world domination – and were responsible for attempted genocide, not only against Jews, but any group that they deemed “undesirable” – racial, ethnic, political, religious and mentally/physically disabled people.

            If you want to see a much closer parallel to Nazi methods, look at the concept of the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States – who DID commit genocide against the Native population, wrested territories from Mexico and Hawaii, “liberated” the Philippines and then began killing hundreds of Filipinos who didn’t want the privilege of being subjects of the US, fomented the rebellion of Panama against Colombia, and declared the new republic a “Protectorate” so as to complete and control the Panama Canal….

            There is plenty to be ashamed of on all sides, in all eras – but sweeping history under a carpet by tearing down or renaming monuments is essentially pretending it didn’t happen by removing these people and events from public view – and from the conversation.

          • Huhsure

            “Sweeping history under a carpet”? The monument isn’t history. It’s a monument. We can do whatever we want with monuments. Including deciding that having a monument to a racist traitor sucks and maybe we shouldn’t have one any more.

            The crappy history of the racist traitor doesn’t go away. Don’t worry about that. There will be plenty of guys to march around in confederate uniforms with Nazi insignias proclaiming the justness of the racist traitor’s cause.

    • Peter Robbins

      Hey, so if Robert E. Lee really felt that remorseful about his Confederate dalliance, then dressing him back in his uniform and plunking him back on his horse could be viewed as a kind of taunt. All the more reason to get rid of that ugly little marker. People can be so insensitive sometimes.

  5. Stan Hawkins

    Thank you for your inference as to the decency of someone who might oppose your commentary. I respectfully object to your premise, but honor your right to opine.

    You seem to have left out of your littany of Asheville history, that a gentleman named Patton was recognized as the largest slave owner in Buncombe and has several (streets and parks) named in his honor. Furthermore, you may want to investigate the history of the Merrimon, Woodfin, and Baird families along with the links to many in the (legal) profession who prospered during these times.

    The Pack family (Pack Memorial Library) were known to be northern followers of Lincoln and supporters of his goals to abolish slavery. Vance and Pack were known to be very good friends, who together were members in a North Asheville civic organization. What would you say to the Pack family knowing that they donated the land known as Pack Square to the city along with $3,000 in the initiative to honor Vance with a monument? Pack evidently saw the good in Zebulon Vance. Perhaps we should try to see the good in people, having respect for opinions on disagreement without opining on their lack of decency. Just saying……

    Should we simply rename Pack Library, Patton Avenue, Merrimon Avenue, Woodfin Place, City of Woodfin, etc. etc.? Perhaps we would prefer now to not have the monument. Let us let the people of Buncombe decide as to the decency of this monument, not the few who may not have the best interest of the people as we have numerous examples.

    Respectfully,
    Stan Hawkins
    Weaverville

    • Phillip Williams

      Yes, and rename Buncombe County and the City of Asheville as well – Edward Buncombe and Samuel Ashe were both slaveholders. O – but they were not Confederates – but then again, they died prior to the Civil War – would have been interesting to see what direction folks like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and the other Southerners who helped found the Nation might have taken had the Civil War occurred during their lifetime.

    • Peter Robbins

      One thing you left out of my litany of Asheville history is that I didn’t give any litany of Asheville history. See? Everybody makes mistakes.

      • Stan Hawkins

        Pardon me; I guess I only possess a “half-ounce” of decency.

        Perhaps with deference to your commentary, we can just substitute the words numerous examples of what those with an “ounce of decency” may do as they review numerous Asheville historical individuals to honor.

        I look forward to hearing about that “perfect” candidate.

        • Peter Robbins

          For starters, here’s somebody I think would quality as a reasonably good hero: Virgil Lusk, a former Confederate cavalry officer “who had a change of heart after the war and prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan” and because of his efforts “was attacked and beaten by Randolph Shotwell, a Klan leader who founded the Asheville Citizen newspaper.” http://www.etsu.edu/news/2016/05_may/nash_reconstruction_book.aspx. Before we start looking for others, though, I would prefer to get a consensus, which does not currently exist, on whether to change the Vance Monument at all.

          And please give your wounded feelings about “decency” a rest. Sheesh. My opinion piece is about the Vance Monument, not you. I have never heard of you, and you’re not mentioned in the piece. For the record, I claim no window into your soul or anyone else’s. But it is my view that the juxtaposition of the words “decency” and “white supremacy” in any manner that suggests a positive correlation would create a serious cognitive dissonance in a reasonable person of goodwill. I have every hope and expectation that you are such a person.

          • stan hawkins

            I will take a look at your candidate. Any care for my goodwill is always appreciated. As you say, you do not know me, nor I you. I have always enjoyed a debate on many good subjects.

            Mostly, I find that debates that separate the people from the problem, avoiding ad hominem attacks at the outset are more fruitful and hopeful of synergistic thinking.

            Good evening.

          • Peter Robbins

            Fair enough. But bear in mind that people often become emotionally attached to their positions, such that they misinterpret a sharp or caustic response to their view as a challenge to their intelligence or character. I sometimes do the former (when I think it advances my argument most effectively), but not the latter. At least not intentionally.

      • Stan Hawkins

        Oh yea. I forgot to mention that my great great great uncle walked home from Appomattox after Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia saving potentially thousands of lives.

        I must object to your use of the word “dalliance” in reference to Robert E Lee. Show some respect please.

        • Peter Robbins

          Your concern is noted, though I think the historical records shows that Lee surrendered because his small remaining force was surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered.

  6. Peter Robbins

    Thanks, gang, for these, er, interesting comments. To finish off the tangential tenor of the thread, I wonder how critics of my proposal would feel about a monument honoring the Ku Klux Klan or its early leader, the plucky Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. At first glance, of course, the thing might have an unsavory appearance. But on deeper reflection do we really want to slight a significant influence on an historic era of Southern politics merely because some of the group’s more unfortunate efforts reflected prejudices shared by many at the time? Forrest and his men did some brave things, didn’t they, in addition to slaughtering and intimidating black people? Political correctness should have some limit, even if it’s hard to draw a bright-line rule for every situation. Indeed, as one of my thoughtful detractors suggested, a towering memorial in the center of town might even give local African Americans a chance to prove their mettle, yet again, by walking past in silence without showing annoyance. I certainly wouldn’t want to get all subtly racist by assuming anyone – of any racial complexion – would have a problem with it. Would you?

    • Stan Hawkins

      Well then as we contemplate and freely debate the past, our history, we have the freedom to express our views on these issues. After we sit down beside the Vance Memorial and reflect on what this monument means to each of us, we can stroll down Patton past Woodfin and all meet up at Pritchard Park.

      When we arrive at Pritchard Park we can reflect on the memory of Jeter Connelly Pritchard, yes the same Pritchard that joined the Lilly White Movement that was formed to rid the Southern Republican party of that era of black voters. Oh my, but what should we do with all the marketing that Asheville invests in the famed Pritchard Park as Ashevillians hide that dirty little secret? By all accounts, Pritchard was an upstanding man of his era, yet espoused some views that are not popular today. Asheville evidently sought to see the good in this man and honor him by naming the park as a memorial.

      I’ ll trade you the Vance Memorial for Pritchard Park, or we could swap the City of Woodfin (Nicholas Woodfin – large slave owner) for Patton Avenue (Patton – large slave owner). What other family should we investigate that stood for what they believed in during their time on this earth?

      For me, I will adopt the George Pack (Pack Memorial Library) model, seeking the good in people as he did Vance in memorializing Zebulon Vance.

      • Peter Robbins

        But that’s the point, isn’t it? This isn’t about erasing the past; it’s about who controls the historical memory and who decides what to honor. Today. In the present tense. I see no reason to defer to the rose-colored judgment of George Pack, especially when the historical facts say otherwise. Loudly and clearly.

      • Peter Robbins

        Besides, I didn’t propose to drive Zeb Vance out of Pack Square entirely. I merely said that he should be made to share the monument with other figures on whom admiration might be bestowed with less ambivalence. One advantage of my approach (that I didn’t have space to mention in the opinion piece) is that it places the thematic emphasis on an aspect of social history (education) about which everyone has at least some good feelings, thereby reducing the discord that arises when a naive hero-worship doesn’t hold up well over time. As to the other possibly problematic historical names you mentioned, I’ll wait until the Mayor asks for input on those. One headache at a time, that’s my policy.

        • Lulz

          LOL, wants to offer input but not pay the taxes lulz. Typical. Yawn.

          Worrying about a place that you really don’t do anything for except criticize is getting real old. I know you “intellectuals” are like the super duper smarties but in reality you live in some kind of dream land.

          • Peter Robbins

            Zebulon Vance grew up on his father’s stock stand in what is now Marshall, so our intertwined roots run deep. Plus, I contribute sales-tax money in Asheville more often than is advisable, which gives me a few paragraphs worth of say I should think. I chose to live in Marshall not for reasons of tax avoidance but because folks out here are friendlier and stand by what they say using their real names.

          • Peter Robbins

            And I’m sorry, Phil Williams, if I come across as too smart. We all have our faults, and I’ve struggled with that one all my life.

          • Phillip Williams

            Mr. Robbins, It is not difficult to tell that a deficiency in self-esteem is not one of your problems. Any “Modest Proposal” that opens up with a judgment upon the potential reader’s decency says a good deal about the writer.

          • Peter Robbins

            Just gittin the mule’s attention. But everybody can read what I actually said and decide if they wish to accept my invitation to agree. No need to fuss no more about little old me and my haughty ways.

        • Huhsure

          I still vote for a smouldering pile of rubble to commemorate Vance and the Confederate cause. Much more appropriate.

  7. Roger

    Philip Williams is an honorable man and a Veteran who should be recognized by those who demonstrate an insufficient measure of character with a bloated sense of moral fibre to even think of posting the comments that reflect poorly upon their opinions. Peter Robbins should apologize for the waste of space and time his opinion has taken.

    • Peter Robbins

      I am pleased, Roger Nolastname, to accept your testimonial that Phil Williams is an honorable man, though I’m not sure where in my opinion piece or in the comments section you find that proposition challenged or, for that matter, why you think this information is relevant to the future of the Vance Monument. I’ll take your word for it that he’s a Vietnam veteran. I really didn’t want this discussion to devolve into personalities, but have it your way.

      I will point out, however, that service in Vietnam doesn’t make the reasons why that war was fought admirable, any more than brave service in the Confederacy ennobled the cause of slavery. Nor, in my opinion, does the sincerity of Zebulon Vance’s belief that white supremacy was the way things ought to be make him acceptable as a hero worthy of being plucked from the past and honored with a huge monument in downtown Asheville – particularly when he devoted so much of his public life to making his vision of racial oppression a reality for so many. If we’re going to give him a pass for white supremacy based on the historical impact of his career or because we do not want to appear too politically correct, then why not a monument honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest or the Ku Klux Klan? What’s the distinguishing principle? There may be a difference certainly, but it’s only one of degree as far as I can tell. And I think I can say that without insulting Phil Williams or anyone else.

      That clarified, I wish you luck in your pursuit of what I hope will be more time-efficient reading experiences. Have you checked out the movie reviews?

    • Phillip Williams

      Mr. Roger, I know several Rogers so am not sure which one you are. In any case, thanks for the kind words. I hadn’t intended to comment further, but since my name was brought up, I would offer a bit of clarification. First, I am not actually a “veteran” by definition, as I am still on active service in the Army. And I was about 10 years too young for Vietnam – I joined in 1982 and had a 5-year gap in service from 1988-93. I hadn’t commented in a few days because I have been in the process of moving from Ft Bragg, NC to Ft Bliss, TX.

      While I appreciate your comments, I must say that Mr. Robbins didn’t insult me. We disagree significantly on this issue and actually indulged in a bit of name-calling a year or so ago – he referred to me as “Colonel Sanders” (thanks for the promotion!) probably because of my penchant for white suits in the summertime, and called my sentimental facebook scribblings “treacly homilies”. I, on a later thread, referred to him and some of the other anti-Vance/Confederacy contributors as “howler monkeys” – which was ungentlemanly at best, and I regretted having attempted an insult.

      What amuses me is the assumptions that some folks make about a person based on their stance on a single issue – one of these fellows, who was apparently banned from this forum, told me “You Lost, Johnny Reb! Get over it!!” I didn’t bother to tell the lad that, despite my appearance, I never fought in the Civil War, and in fact, have worn the US Army uniform for over 30 years – and I swore my allegiance to the United States. So, should the Nation ever divide again, I would report to the closest US Army installation and await my orders.

      I have hesitated to bring up my own military service, as some folks see this as a boast or “playing the Soldier Card” to try and claim some kind of high ground. I assure you that this is not the case – just wanted to let you know that I am not a veteran yet, nor did I serve during the Viet Nam era.

      • Peter Robbins

        I gather from your silence on my Nathan Bedford Forrest “proposal,” Phil Williams, that you recognize there is some point at which immersion in white supremacy as a policy choice renders an historical figure unworthy of honor in a public-square monument. The debate is simply whether Zebulon Vance crosses that threshold, and, if so, what to do about it.

        • Phillip Williams

          I think you already know my position on monuments in general – and I do not think the Vance memorial crosses any type of threshold. I do not believe that any new monuments to Nathan Bedford Forrest or any other Confederate leader should be erected – but neither do I believe that any existing ones should be dismantled. I do believe that the whole story should be told – both positive and negative – the old monuments are part of the historical record, and should remain as evidence of where we once were, and new should be added to 1) give credit where it once was denied and 2) to show how far we have come.

          It is also folly to deny the positive contributions of some former Confederates and slaveholders – several of them played important role in our history before, during and after the Civil War. The positive side should be presented along with the negative, if for nothing else, to show how flawed, fallible, and conflicted people can be.

          Not all of the Confederate memorials were erected as an in-your-face gesture at blacks. Many, such as the one torn down in Durham, were erected by communities who lost men and boys in the War – no different from the hundreds of similar monuments dotting the North. Sure, most of the Confederate monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era, but when you consider that the Jim Crow Era stretched from roughly 1877 to 1964, that many former Confederate States and individuals were financially broke for a couple of decades following the Civil War, and that most former combatants on both sides began to age out and die off from the 1910’s thru the 1940’s, it is not much of a stretch to think that maybe white supremacy didn’t play as big a part in erection of statues as folks like yourself want to think.

      • Peter Robbins

        Oh, and don’t worry about the name-calling. It is long forgotten, and I would say there was fault on both sides. Just wait till we both get on the bad side of that “Lulz” guy.

  8. Stan Hawkins

    Further contemplation of this issue prompts the addition of the following comments. My hope is that Asheville city leaders will be guided in the concept that progress embraces the past, and those that follow “add to history” as representatives guided by their sacred oath.

    Asheville is a reasonably good and vibrant city in the county where I make my home. It’s leaders past and present are held to account to keep it’s history alive, true, and protected. I was not around during the time of the civil war, and following reconstruction of Western North Carolina, Buncombe, and Asheville. North Carolina lost 250,000 citizens during the war between the states. It’s citizens, including Vance and Virgil Lusk indeed took up arms against the Union and federal forces. The citizens of our area were not so much in agreement, as perhaps today.

    I was also not around during the time of the demise of these two gentleman, nor that of Robert E Lee. Whether or not they were repentant for their actions, is not for me or any other mortal to judge according to my faith. By all accounts, each professed a measure of character during and after this great conflict. Many men, women, slaves, and free alike layed everything on the line for what they believed at the time. My mother’s Great Great Great Grand Father, Solomon Jones, of Henderson and Transylvania counties of NC was a road builder including a toll road from South Carolina into North Carolina. He made maps for many runaway slaves that were escaping Georgia and South Carolina through the mountains to Tennessee. He was a Unionist, as were many in Western North Carolina. This said, just to give example of how complex the politics of that day. Jones had nephews that were riding with Stonewall Jackson and others who marched with Robert E Lee.

    This is the point. There were many formidable and sometimes brutal conflicts amongst the citizens of Western North Carolina as they disagreed on the issues of the day. Currently, a measure of this disagreement is spilling over into this debate. We must preserve this heritage as this is the truth, while remembering that hate, violence, and divisive rhetoric only inflames.

    There most assuredly are other historic figures Asheville should memorialize in some fashion to honor their sacrifices. It would seem most appropriate to find a location most suitable for those additions, as a tribute to progress in the city that lays claim to so many progressive ideals.

    By taking the two high roads of respecting and embracing the past while adding to our historical virtues, Asheville will be true to itself. And just to be clear, the Vance memorial must stand as it is to represent the greater good in mortal yet flawed men. This is our history – this is the truth.

    • Peter Robbins

      How does what you propose (building more monuments) differ from I proposed (adding new names to the existing monument), other than the fact that yours is more expensive? Let’s be practical here. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

      But you’ve given me an even better idea for the Vance Monument. What say we adopt a theme of racial justice, instead of education, and give one side of the base to Virgil Lusk, who we appear to agree might represent at least the better angels of the Confederates; give the second side to a corresponding white person who fought for the Union (or at least never fought against it) and similarly advanced the cause of racial equality after the Civil War; give the third side to an African-American hero who added his or her name to the struggle (shouldn’t be hard to find); and leave the fourth side blank to symbolize all those whose names will never be known and all those who we hope will outshine us in the future?

      That social-history theme could be embraced without the embarrassment that the ambivalent Vance legacy triggers (or at least should trigger) in thoughtful people who care about racial justice. It would look forward to a better future, as well as backward at a troubled past. It would remember more, not less, history. It would get rid of that ridiculously romanticized tribute to Robert E. Lee, who has no connection to this area. It would banish the equally untenable implication that Vance somehow towers above all others in Western North Carolina as a great man of virtue and courage. And, best of all, it would facilitate a conversation about race and history without testing the endurance of African Americans, as one comment on this thread so bizarrely and offensively suggested, just to prove that we white people aren’t being subtly racist by protecting them from stressful memory.

      How’s that for synergy?

      • Peter Robbins

        No, come to think, there is an important difference, Stan Hawkins, between your approach and mine. Your way still invites endless discord over whether Vance’s status as a lifelong champion of white supremacy renders him so much more flawed than great as to render his monument objectionable to many good people. My way, it doesn’t matter whether the honorees were flawed or not. All that matters is that they contributed to a cause greater than themselves — one that the community can unanimously endorse as admirable and around which it can unite.

        I do thank you, though, for being the first commenter to actually address my proposal and say what you thought was wrong with it. I was beginning to despair that that would ever happen.

    • Phillip Williams

      Mr. Hawkins, I heard an interesting Civil War fact on NPR yesterday, regarding the Civil War memorial at Princeton University. It is unique in that it only lists the names of 70 students who died in the War, but doesn’t identify whether they were USA or CSA. The “Ivy League” colleges during the 1800’s were full of Southern students – and Princeton’s total student population was around 40% from the South.

      Lately, there has been a movement at Princeton to change the monument – to identify and remove the names of those who fought for the Confederacy or give them a separate memorial that emphasizes that they died for a reprehensible cause, rather than as a memorial to young men who died in a horrific war.

      Those who dislike the monument say that it is “too forgiving” and “suppresses history”. They apparently do not agree with the monument’s original and stated intention of promoting national healing and reconciliation, and allowing the people of that time to grieve together over those who died, regardless of what side they were on.

      As I predicted earlier, this “cultural revolution” has not stopped with removing Confederate flags and statues of Confederate leaders from public spaces – people are digging now, to find what all could possibly “offend” anyone and now figure they are “doing their part” for social justice. Thankfully, it appears that the Princeton leadership doesn’t plan to make any changes at this time.

      • stan hawkins

        Thank you for sharing these events. I do hope the families of those young men memorialized at Princeton do not have to bear the burden of a misguided reckoning. As one who has stood at the North Carolina monument on that impenetrable ridge at Gettysburg, it is simply humbling to think of the enormity of loss on both sides of this conflict.

        There is an old parable in a Great Old Book, that speaks of the hazards and futility of a farmer guiding his plow horse in a field while looking backwards to straighten a row he has already plowed. Let us hope that reason, humility, and love for our country, regardless of the origins of our beginnings, will guide us as peacemakers.

        • Phillip Williams

          Yes, I stood at “the High Water Mark” some years back at Gettysburg – my Great, Great Grandad and his two brothers were in that charge – Grandad, James Anderson “Anse” Singleton, was struck in the throat by a spent bullet or grapeshot. Didn’t kill him, but damaged his larynx to where he had a hoarse, whispery voice the rest of his life – the 3, John Carson Singleton, Anse Singleton and William “Lum” Singleton, all survived the War, were mustered out together after Appomattox, and lived out their lives as farmers and storekeepers almost within earshot of each other in the Bethel Valley. They all died within a few years of each other – Here is Anse’s page on Findagrave.com https://secure.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=singleton&GSiman=1&GSsr=1&GScid=1976388&GRid=16356786&

          And you are right – looking out across that field took my breath – such a terrible loss…

  9. Roger Smith

    Stan Hawkins and Philip Williams have contributed to a more civilized discourse upon the subject Mr. Robbins has expressed contempt for and a proposal that the monument he hates must be removed. The subject of removal of monuments is far-ranging. In Johannesburg of June 2015 (two and a half years ago), the perpetrators of who defaced the Paul Kruger statue were threatened with “the strongest possible action” for their criminal acts. “The situation is deteriorating by the day,” AfriForum deputy chief executive Alana Bailey was quoted as saying; “people are becoming swept up by the emotion of events, and communities are becoming dangerously polarised as a result.” [Sound familiar?] The article for News24 by Adam Wakefield stated that Alana Bailey believed that “the current debate on statues and monuments could lead to attention seekers with political agendas wanting a place in the spotlight.”

    It would seem to me that the attention seekers in the State and the City of Asheville (and now Marshall) have reacted with emotional outbursts for pure political purposes and cultural illogic–and for the attention they all seek for the hatred they feel, not for the Confederate dead, but for the anger and disappointment against Donald Trump and the outcome of the 2016 political cycle. But given the disappointment felt by the majority of Americans against both major political parties of the establishment, who isn’t concerned about our Nation and its disruptive drift from the center?

    Fast-forward to October 26, 2017, and the headline about the Mayor of New York City: “DeBlasio admits his statue removal tribunal is nonsense.” The partisan report claims that DeBlasio “is now saying not a single statue may be yanked after all.” It would seem that the Mayor became an attention seeker when he “tried to jump into the national conversation on the removal of Confederate statues by announcing the commission just days after” the Charlottesville events in August 2016. Among remarks the Mayor made to the press less than a month ago, DeBlasio stated “I’m not going to pre-judge. Because it’s not just about Columbus, or about folks who own slaves or Confederate officers–it’s about everything.”

    Given the New York City Mayor’s recent statement, it would seem that to give in to the demands of attention-seekers who express their hatred and shame over events that took place a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago is something that rational citizens must consider carefully and more thoughtfully than those like Peter Robbins who are angry and resentful against ordinary folk who had nothing whatsoever to do with his “beef.”

    In my opinion, the hysteria of 2017 will die a slow death and a majority of Americans will be able to recognize the attention-seekers from the average citizen who wants our Constitution to be saved and our communities to be safe from righteous criminals who wrongly believe they are right to take the law into their own hands and destroy anything and everything that they find offensive.

    • Peter Robbins

      Um, Roger, I didn’t say that the Vance Monument must be removed. That’s not my call. I didn’t even say it should be removed. I suggested that it could be improved without losing Vance to obscurity. And I didn’t express contempt, certainly not hatred, for the incumbent occupant. I just think that Asheville has plucked a bad apple from a rich historical tree and can do better. If you prefer rotten apples, there’s nothing I can do to improve your tastes.

      But you are right about one thing – I was seeking attention. Not for myself, though. I wrote this opinion piece several months ago, hoping it could run in the same week as the two-day symposium on Vance that was held last September at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. I thought maybe the Xpress could run a short blurb tying the piece with the event. Unfortunately, there were other commentaries ahead of mine in the queue, and, having read them, I think we can all agree the editor made the right choice in not giving mine precedence.

      I was able to accomplish some of my mission, though, in that my piece and the subsequent comments afforded me the chance to slip in plugs for the impressive historical work of two symposium participants – Gordon McKinney and Steve Nash. Let me now extend the same courtesy to the keynote speaker, Yale historian David W. Blight, author of Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War. Blight’s fantastic course on the Civil War and Reconstruction is available for free online. Check it out.

      Let’s give him the last word, shall we? He’s even smarter than I think I am.
      https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-119/lecture-27.

  10. Roger Smith

    Mr. Robbins, I must admit that I did not expect the civilized response you have graciously addressed to me, personally. I have to thank you for clarifying the timeline of the matter in question, as I had come to believe that the hysteria of the past year might finally be leveling off. The recommendation I took care to propose in August was made with some hope that instead of “repurposing” the monument, or “renaming” it, the money for such misguided action (or reaction) should be invested in a new phase at Pack Square, when the next monument might be erected with the intent of “contextualizing” the historical narrative. I proposed, first, a statue to the Native-American, the first immigrant to the area; then one to an African-American, a local citizen who was born, lived, worked and died in Asheville; the next figure I proposed was one to the textile worker and the farmer, those Americans who worked to cloth and feed the population. My firm resolve is that the local “narrative” is a part of the giant mural that illustrates our Nation’s history and its creed for perfecting the union, and as such not one individual or a group of activists (whether “right” or “wrong”) has the right or the moral authority to remove one single brush stroke from the mural, the same one we could all be at work for envisioning the next scene in the panoramic narrative of the United States of America. The hysteria that has gripped our nation over the past year or so is reactionary and destructive, and such emotional attention-getting should not be the stage or the square upon which the government of the people and for the people would make critical decisions that reflect upon our time. I too wrote a commentary, but the license the editors asked me to grant them to change what I had written was unacceptable and in my view inappropriate. Thank you for your informative remarks and the time you took to explain what had taken place that caused your view of several months ago to seem to me to be out-of-step with the ongoing discourse about the Vance monument and others.

  11. Alan Ditmore

    If the monument is good and strong, it could be used as a corner support post for a high density affordable housing tower.

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