Letter: Repurposing monument would offer chance for learning, growth

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I am writing in response to Sandra Kilgore’s thoughtful opinion piece, “Full Circle: Can Repurposing the Vance Monument Help Heal the Divide in Asheville?” [Jan. 27, Xpress]. Kilgore makes excellent and well-supported points in regard to the Vance Monument, many of which I find myself in agreement with.

Having lived in New Orleans, I am familiar with the disillusionment and consequent division citizens face when confronted with the loss of a landmark that has been ingrained into their identities.

Many people, like myself, have come to the shameful realization that landmarks they previously regarded as little more than references for street directions or the quirky eccentricities of past citizens are actually symbols of pain and oppression to others.

While I understand the desire to dispense with the cause of the pain by getting rid of the monument, I agree with Ms. Kilgore’s point about the advantages of repurposing the Vance Monument.

We study history in order to learn from mistakes. When something is gone, we tend to forget, but when we have reminders around us, we are more likely to remember the lesson to be learned.

The Vance Monument has been a part of the history of Asheville since 1898 and over that time has acquired many more layers of history than the memory of the avowed racist and white supremacist Zebulon Vance. Ms. Kilgore provides strong examples of this, including the positive symbolism of an obelisk and the probable construction of the monument by men of color.

The repurposing of the Vance Monument would present an opportunity, not only for learning, but also to add yet another layer to the history and growth of this community.

As Sandra Kilgore states, the repurposed monument could “provide a new narrative” toward a much-needed unification.

— Karen Burt Coker


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4 thoughts on “Letter: Repurposing monument would offer chance for learning, growth

  1. theDon

    What? Re-purpose the monument…. for learning and growth? Please. What about the -ill placed and ill advised- bitterness, anger and retribution that seemingly follows the BLM bandwagon (particularly/ notably amongst its entitled shill white adherents…) everywhere it careens? You imagine something like progressive interpretive history and education has any place in this “controversy”? Errr…. movement. This is style, not substance, Asheville. Remember? Sigh. (….and thank you for your letter, and your well placed and well put intention)

    • James

      Funny… I thought ALL Americans were angry when American troops are killed by our enemies… Or perhaps we should have left the feces on the wall of the Capitol left by the insurgents as an “interpretive history” of the Trumpian attack on the Capitol on 1/6?

  2. James

    If we renamed or “repurposed” the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, or the Washington Monument they will still remain in the public yes, and be referred to as the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, and the Washington Monument. Confederate traitors will still call it the Vance Monument out of spite. People on the periphery of the debate will call it the Vance Monument out of habit. And the people who want it gone will spend the rest of their lives trying to constantly correct people as to what it is now called and what it now “represents.”

    Repurposing is a feel good exercise by those who want opponents of this monument to racism and treason to feel like they “tried” to deal with it. A monument by any other name smells just as foul. You are not fooling anyone with this repurpose nonsense.

  3. Evelyn M. Coltman

    Question: Was the committee who made the recommendation to take down the monument balanced so that people form the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources were consulted? I would be interested in their opinion about this issue. Why has there not been a single comment from the trained historians who have no axe to grind concerning the politics surrounding historic properties? Some groups promote a lop-sided vision surrounding history, but these people do not belong to those groups. I know because I have worked with them on many historical projects in neighboring Haywood County. Dedicated specialists with NCDNCR could provide excellent commentary about the issue.
    My sympathies certainly lie with the folks who have been treated unfairly by public displays geared to honor those who were less than honorable in their treatment of indigenous people, people of color, and minority populations. In this case, however, an obelisk, unlike a Confederate soldier on a horse, is frequently defined as a symbol of a new age, a birth, a conductor of spiritual energy from the sun. Why can this lovely architectural piece not become a symbol of a new age of awareness about mistakes our culture has made in the past regarding racial issues, the birth of an enlightened approach to dealing with divisiveness, and a conductor of spiritual energy to allow us all to experience a different vision of how society should function?
    Several have suggested a type of commemoration that honors those who have been cheated by past ill treatment. A reoccurring art competition involving a plaque design that would commemorate black history, Native American contributions, or Hispanic heritage could encourage the art community for which Asheville is so revered. Over the years, the plaques could be placed strategically on the monument as new awards for outstanding artists would be celebrated.
    While the pain of past injustices cannot nor should not be forgotten, a new way of treating a former object of disdain can serve to transform our outlook – kind of a like a converted sinner in the same body becoming an entirely new person.

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