Letter: Asheville’s obelisk, take two

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I just read another bunch of letters [July 5, Xpress] discussing some sort of absolution for the destruction of the Vance Monument. I’m glad the conversation is ongoing, as I view the whole debacle as a dismal failure of our leadership’s imagination and governance by turning a lovely piece of civic architecture to rubble because of the nameplate stuck on it.

But the idea that to the original plaque, we should have added another plaque to explain our embarrassment at the name on the first plaque is just goofy, as though Vance and the column were one and the same, that Zeb was somehow inextricably bound with the granite, his sins (wicked and aplenty) intrinsically inseparable from the stone, and all we can think to do is either tear the thing down or dedicate it to our shame and guilt, letting him haunt us forever.

The obelisk wasn’t the problem.

Vance was the problem.

The simple fact is that it was only so dedicated because somebody in City Hall signed a proclamation, and a work crew went across the square and attached said nameplates to the shiny new spire. It would have taken no more effort to repeat the process.

(I’m certainly not saying we should erase Vance and his awful deeds from our memory. But we should have booted him the hell off our most important civic edifice. An awesome structure like that needs to celebrate and liberate. Not wag a finger at us and trap a despicable old traitor within the rock where he can eternally infect our town square.)

So, dear city leaders, pen the decree, put the obelisk back up and summon the workers to remove the old plaques, grind them to gravel and affix some new ones. It’s not like we don’t have an abundance of deserving candidates: Isaac Dickson, Oscar Wong, Terry Bellamy, Emöke B’Racz, Bascom Lunsford, Floyd McKissick, Warren Haynes, world peace … there’s a start. I know you can add some more. Pick one. Pick four, one per side. Attach. Then throw a big party on the square, reveal the new honoree(s), and we’ll sing and dance and celebrate our exorcism and reborn civic mojo.

To have destroyed a handsome landmark like ours because of some foul graffiti on its base is a crime against our blessed city. Asheville is better than that. And we deserve the monument to prove it.

— Mark Wilson


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14 thoughts on “Letter: Asheville’s obelisk, take two

  1. MV

    Amen. And what better place than the base of the Vance monument (or whatever we could have called it) to teach history or kneel before flags (or even burn them) when myopic elected officials or the Supreme Court Kangaroos ignore us or attempt to overthrow Democracy?

    • Peter Robbins

      What better place than the base of the old Vance Monument for teaching and protest? That’s easy – the place where the old Vance Monument used to be. More room for one thing. A more interesting perspective for another.

  2. Peter Robbins

    Revisionists can revise all they want to, but the Vance Monument was always about Vance, and everybody knows it. That’s why it was called the Vance Monument and not the Obelisk. That’s why the name VANCE and not the word OBELISK was chiseled into the pedestal in huge letters on all four sides. It is amusing, though, to watch the Vance lovers and the Vance haters give each other an amnesty as they rally belatedly around an imaginary Vance-less monument that never was and never will be. Kinda like how Reconstruction morphed into Lost Cause revisionism back in the day.

    One obvious advantage of demolition was that it obviated the need to assign new meanings to an old symbol – an iffy social process that no one really controls. It’s one thing to say that a statue of a Confederate general on his noble steed merely symbolizes military prowess or equestrian skill. It’s another to get people to believe that. If you can’t rehabilitate the stars and bars or the swastika, what makes anyone so sure that a landmark identified with Zebulon Vance for more than a century would be easily amenable to cultural redefinition? It’s sometimes possible to re-purpose symbols (think Christmas trees and Easter eggs), but there are no guarantees (think New Coke and The Artist Formerly Known as Whatever That Thing Was). See https://www.sapiens.org/culture/symbols-shifting-culture/

  3. Shultz!

    Wow, no accounting for taste, I suppose. The giant phallus was as ugly as it was vulgar. Good riddance!

  4. Voirdire

    Governor Zebulon Vance on the Civil War… “a rich man’s war, a poor man’s fight”. Well put…. very well put. As for his innumerable “awful deeds” and “sins” …what can you say other than: Where will this woke hysteria end? It’s certainly not looking like it’s going to end well. Well, let’s all in the meantime enjoy the histrionics… so very fascinating… sigh.

    • Peter Robbins

      The rebellion against the Vance Monument, though admittedly messy at times, ended in a $3 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to redo the entire Pack Square Plaza. I’d call that a pretty good outcome.

      And really, do you have to be so disrespectful to a fellow citizen with whom you disagree? It’s hardly “woke” (whatever that means) or hysterical to have misgivings about awarding the place of highest honor in Asheville to a lifelong champion of white supremacy. I would expect anyone with an ounce of decency to feel at least a twinge of embarrassment about that.

      PS. Vance did not coin the “rich man’s war” saying. It was commonly used by soldiers on both sides in the Civil War. Check out some of the man’s observations on race, though. They’re originals.

  5. Bright

    How about finding out when the water situation in asheville will be repaired to a reliable system. The dismal infrastructure seems to have lost attention by the “important” news about the giant phallus and the multi million dollar sports arena. Money available for all that hoo ha, but remember “You don’t miss the water till the well runs dry,” guys. Smarten up, Stock up…the new motto in asheville.

  6. WNC

    Stones aren’t racist

    What about providing a place people can take a walk in downtown and enjoy themselves. I would not be interested in hearing your take on Zeb Vance patriarch of the NC Democratic Party as I walk.

  7. El Gordito

    Let’s bring it back and paint it pink like they did with that Soviet tank in Prague. We can call it the Pink Vance Penis Monument.

  8. joelharder

    The first Confederate Memorial Monument removed from its installed location was located in Helena, Montana. In response to the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, the American Indian Caucus wrote an Op-Ed calling for removal of the Fountain. “Please send a message that there is no hate in our state by removing this divisive memorabilia from the capital city.”

    History on this Confederate Memorial Monument. Donation cost: $2,000 in 1916.

    The Confederate Monument was removed and replaced with the Equity Fountain. The intent of the 2020 landmark is to emphasize equality, tolerance, and justice. The Daughters of the American Revolution has requested the Confederate Statue.

    My point is Asheville needs to learn from other cities on how to handle change.

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