A recent letter in this column [“Erasing Past Deprives Us of Understanding,” July 26] claimed that our Civil War was not “fought over slavery” and went on to say that Reconstruction-era monuments are necessary to remind us of that history. The causes of our Civil War are certainly multifaceted and played out in the decades prior to the war itself. These causes included vastly different cultures and conflicts rooted in the plantation economy of the rural South and the early stages of an industrial economy in the increasingly urban North.
One part of the prewar conflict was the admission of new states into the union. Each side, North and South, was concerned that if more states were admitted to the other side, they would lose power in Congress. Thus, for many years a new slave state was balanced by a new free state. This free/slave tit-for-tat speaks to how central slavery was to each side. Further, when Abraham Lincoln, who was opposed to the expansion of slavery, was elected president, South Carolina seceded from the Union. The South knew that if slavery were confined to the states where it was currently allowed, it would die a slow death. So, while it is true that slavery was not the sole cause of our Civil War, it was a central cause, a cause deeply connected to the culture and economy of each side.
I agree with the writer that it is extremely important to teach history to the next generation and that monuments can serve an important role in that educational effort. Where I disagree is that I view it as immoral to tolerate monuments glorifying America’s original sin and honoring leaders who were responsible for the horrors of that sin. Tolerating monuments such as the Vance obelisk teaches young people that the ownership of slaves was not important and certainly nothing to be considered shameful. But it is important and it is shameful, particularly in Asheville, where the ideal of social equality is so widely embraced.
Personally, I would like to see Asheville follow the lead of cities like New Orleans and tear down these monstrous celebrations of slavery and slave owners. This is not rewriting history, but placing its most despicable actors in libraries and museums, rather than on pedestals in the town square. Failing that, the full story must be told at these sites. It should be made clear that Vance and others embodied the inhuman depravity that slavery entailed.
— Richard Winchell