Letter: Don’t rewrite history, just get rid of the monuments

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Graphic by Lori Deaton

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
Asheville

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42 thoughts on “Letter: Don’t rewrite history, just get rid of the monuments

  1. Mike

    Even though you might not be a Christian , the historical Jesus made a good point when he said to the group of pre-muslims who were about to stone a woman accused of adultery: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Is having owned even one slave back when it was legal and common the ONLY “sin” that DQ’s one from being recognized in a monument in the USA in your view? Or are there others ??

    You are also demanding that the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial in DC be torn down… (or maybe renamed the Bill Clinton Monument (symbolism certainaly works) and the Barack Obama Memorial??

    • bsummers

      “pre-muslims who were about to stone a woman accused of adultery”?

      You mean the Pharisees, the Jewish scholars who thought they had set a nice trap for Jesus? They were in no way “pre-muslims”, but I suppose you could call them “pre-James O’Keefes”.

      • bsummers

        Yay!! We’re all clear now – down come the Confederate monuments!

        • Peter Robbins

          Yeah. The answer was staring us in the face the whole time. All we have to do is say that there’s a slight difference between struggling for your country to advance freedom (if imperfectly) and struggling against it to preserve oppression. I wrote that down in the unlikely event this topic ever comes up again. I don’t want to get caught flat-footed twice!

  2. Don

    and yes, let’s take down the Washington Monument in Washington DC (you’re going to need to rename that town, btw) while we’re at it…. and the Jefferson Memorial et al. So really, only one question here: when and where does all of this politically correct foolishness end? (really looking forward to the re-education camps too…. they’ll be way fun ;)

    • Deplorable Infidel

      oh, and don’t forget, we must destroy all the slave owner plantations in the south as well…like Monticello – after the $45MILLION fluff …right ?

      I was verbally attacked today for commenting that ‘if they weren’t trying to remove statues in Charlottesville there would have been no violence…’ isn’t that true

    • Lulz

      White conservative males are the enemy of the left. They stand in the way of the their agenda. Hence they MUST be racist or some other made up garbage the commies spew in order to vilify and marginalize them because they don’t buy into the poverty that the left wants to put them in. I truly believe that we are at the crossroads of a breaking the nation apart.

      • bsummers

        “White conservative males” aren’t necessarily racist, but overtly racist white conservative males are.

  3. Don

    btw, I voted for Barak Obama, twice… and abhor TheRump and his ilk. Just want to be clear about where I’m coming from with all of this… because it’s important and this has all gotten way out of hand basically. Check out the article in the NYTimes yesterday about the University of Mississippi [Ole Miss] and how they are using the concept of contextualiztion with new/additional historical interpretive signage on their confederate and post-confederate/ reconstructive period monuments et al. Better to explain ALL the history… rather than to glorify it (has some of the confederate monuments have certainly done for way too long now) and/or obliterate it with the removal of these historical monuments as we seem to be doing now without thinking it through thoroughly. Oh wait, this is America…. what am I thinking? ….just get on with your personal agenda…. whatever the hell it is…. lol ;)

    • bsummers

      While you’re at it, check out what’s happening in Charlottesville VA, TODAY: Neo-Nazis, KKK, gun-toting “Oath Keepers” militia, and other far-right, racist, Confederate flag-waving America-haters who haven’t learned anything from the wars this country has fought.

      Trump has given them courage to sneak out from under their rocks and wave the Battle Flag with KKK emblazoned on it (thanks for clearing that up). We need to push back against a rising tide of hate in this country.

  4. Peter Robbins

    Again with the Vance Monument. Sigh. Once more, it falls to me to propose a reasonable compromise that accommodates – in appropriately inclusive fashion – the tender sensibilities of all concerned. You say we need a contextual marker to more accurately commemorate Asheville’s most honored of honorees? Fine. After noting the Governor’s modest contributions to the slave economy and the Rebellion that sought to preserve it, and after recognizing the humaneness with which he treated all pre-war chattel entrusted by Providence to his care, and after giving the Great Man credit for his lifelong celebration of the supreme qualities of the white lifestyle choice, let the marker declare as follows:

    “Throughout his public life, race relations were an important part of the public discourse. Between 1862 and 1894, government policies were evolving rapidly, and law and custom were in a state of flux. In the midst of momentous changes, Zeb refused to modify his positions in any meaningful way. He firmly believed in the mental inferiority of African Americans and never deviated from that belief. As the people of the United States tried to adjust to emancipation and black citizenship, Zeb sought to limit African American access to power. He used negative stereotypes of the African Americans in political campaigns, in congressional speeches, and in his public and private writings. All of this material helped shape the public dialogue about race relations in North Carolina to the detriment of the new black citizens. Unlike Jefferson Davis, Zeb lived at a time when he had the option to adopt different attitudes and change his public stands. He chose not to do so.

    – From “Zeb Vance” by historian Gordon B. McKinney

    P.S. And now, in the spirit of our Zeb, we today choose not to dedicate this public space to the honor of any historical person, group, movement or event more praiseworthy – or even marginally less odious – because we don’t want to look all politically correct, or to be uncharitable to dead white men, or to erase history, or to have to tear down the Washington Monument, or somethin’.”

    There. We’ll put the supplemental marker right next to those statues of the little pigs. Everybody happy now? Okay, I’ll throw in a few grammatical errors, misplaced ellipses and random capitalizations so everyone will feel included. Happy now?

    • Lulz

      Of course let’s define people by their use of the English language. Only white people of course. But that’s the hypocrisy on display that we’ve become accustomed to. Don’t agree with a white person? Marginalize and ridicule them and even get them fired from their jobs. Starve them into submission because they don’t agree with YOUR views. That’ll end well.

      • Peter Robbins

        I wasn’t judging by the color of their syntax but by the content of their characters.

  5. bsummers

    Here’s an idea – the one thing I’ve always hated (aesthetically) about the Vance Monument is the rough stone look of it. How about we take a giant belt sander to it, and (ala Michelangelo) take away everything that isn’t a monument to the Egyptian God Osiris?

  6. Huhsure

    In light of the events in Charlottesville today, we need to put an end to this insurgency and we should start by razing every last Confederate white supremacist monument.

  7. Deplorable Infidel

    when the vile leftwing progressive nazis STOP trying to erase history by removing historical monuments, the violence will stop. probably NOT until then … these evil democrackkks cannot change history…THEY started the KKK !!!

    • bsummers

      The “leftwing progressives” weren’t the ones waving Nazi flags and chanting “blood and soil!”* in Charlottesville, were they? Robert E. Lee himself didn’t want Civil War monuments, and he urged you to get over it 150 years ago. If you revere the guy so much, why don’t you listen to him?

      * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_and_Soil

      • Deplorable Infidel

        right, LEE was against slavery and fought to end it…

        why don’t the idiots REALIZE REAL HISTORY instead of trying to destroy it ? ? ?

        • bsummers

          Nobody said that Robert E. Lee was against slavery. I simply posted his words about monuments to the Civil War – he didn’t want any part of them, and said we should “obliterate the marks of civil strife”. So that’s what we’ll do as we take down the statues of him riding his horse into battle.

          Why do you hate General Lee, Fisher Caudle?

          • Deplorable Infidel

            I certainly do not…why would you ask such a stupid question?

  8. bsummers

    “I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered.”
    Robert E. Lee, Aug. 5, 1869
    http://gettysburg.cdmhost.com/cdm/ref/collection/p4016coll2/id/841
    (h/t Huhsure)

    Get it, Confederacy-lovers? Robert E. Lee himself wanted you to GET OVER IT! Whether you choose to follow his wishes or not, the rest of us are going to “endeavor to obliterate the marks of civil strife” by gradually removing these celebrations of human anguish from the public square. You can go visit them in a museum.

  9. Phillip Charles Williams

    They say that funerals are for the living – I reckon it is the same with monuments. The dead didn’t erect them, and they probably don’t have a heck of a lot to say about the matter, either now or then. I would not try to kill anyone who wants to destroy them – I wouldn’t even offer to punch them in the nose. But I do find it curious that people seem to automatically assume that I am a “Confederacy-lover” or a neo-Nazi because my personal idea of historical preservation and conservancy leads me to disapprove of the destruction of monuments.

    Many of the young folks who are hollering the loudest right now could not tell you what century the Civil War was fought in, much less the causes and circumstances of the individuals involved. I am afraid that, until we as a Nation are never going to move forward until we are able to get past emotional outbursts and insults on both sides, acknowledge and learn our history – warts and all, and agree to disagree without name calling and irrational accusations.

    If folks think that bulldozing every monument or erasing every place name that offends them or doesn’t meet their criteria for appropriate use of “civic space”, my advice at this point is to have at it – but do it by changing the law. I will not shoot you, run over you, cuss you, or even breathe on your glasses, so long as you don’t presume to lay hands on me or mine.

    That said, I bid you farewell on this subject and promise that I will not discuss it again on this forum. It is not a “surrender”, as some will doubtless be delighted to think, but a declaration of neutrality. I will watch your discussions with interest, but will no longer contribute.

    • luther blissett

      “Many of the young folks who are hollering the loudest right now could not tell you what century the Civil War was fought in, much less the causes and circumstances of the individuals involved.”

      On the contrary, many of them know more about the Civil War and Jim Crow and the resistance to Civil Rights — and know more about the deliberate Lost Cause idol-erecting and myth-making of the UDC, or the ten-year easy payment schedules of the bronze-casters and marble quarries who mass-produced them and shipped them out — than at any time since those monuments were first erected.

      They also know more about the deliberate destruction of black business districts, the riots to remove black officials who had been lawfully elected, what the celebratory cards for lynchings looked like, what resistance to desegregation looked like, what the consequence of a century of apologetics looks like. “Agree to disagree” glosses over how pernicious — and how much of a g-d waste — the quasi-religious cult of confederatism has been over the past century.

      It’s time to be done with the genteel blinkers of the Shelby Foote model of history.

      http://bittersoutherner.com/from-the-southern-perspective/politics/the-perpetual-unpleasantness

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