Letter writer: Take down the Vance Monument

Graphic by Lori Deaton

April 4 was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.. In honor of his memory, a memorial protest led by the Rev. Amy Cantrell of BeLoved Asheville was held at the Vance Monument. For a very good reason.

Isn’t it interesting that this phallic symbol to a white man who owned slaves is given the honor of being placed right in the center of our city? As if it is a monument to greatness?

What message are we really giving to all of our city residents? That only white people count? That we are closing our eyes to what this monument truly stands for? That at this moment in history, when we are so aware of the insidiousness of the Confederate flag, we turn a blind eye to this horrid monument to racism?

According to history, he was a champion of all those who needed to raise their voices. As one who is Jewish, I was surprised to hear he supported the Jews, but he turned a blind eye to anyone of color.

In fact, he was known as a slave owner and for saying that he did not think black people were smart enough to be able to vote. That indeed all ‘they” could do was to be of support to a family.

Is this the man we really want to immortalize?

Did you know that at the same space where this monument stands, slaves were auctioned off?

So each time you admire the iron animals at the monument, please know you are also acknowledging the slaves that were sold like pigs on this very same spot!

Join us at the Vance Monument every Thursday at 4 p.m. through April as we gather to raise our voice against racism.

Take this despicable symbol of racism down now! Take it down! Take it down!

— Ariel Harris


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51 thoughts on “Letter writer: Take down the Vance Monument

  1. Paul Wilczynski

    The author says “… please know you are also acknowledging the slaves that were sold like pigs on this very spot!”

    That’s exactly why the monument should stay. So that we are reminded of the history – all of the history – that it represents.

    • Lulz

      LOL, let ’em be. In fact ridicule them for the tantrums they throw and stupidity they show. When 5 old farts show up to protest this farce, that’s the real joke. Meanwhile Rome burns lulz.

    • Margaret Davis

      I agree the monument should not be taken down. This monument and others should remain but an additional plaque placed on the monument could describe the history of Governor Vance. This will keep the historical perspective of slavery alive. If we simply take down all monuments, no one will know the history

  2. Rbethes

    Ariel Harris it’s time for u to leave Asheville. History is what created this city and just because the history doesn’t agree with your agenda doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or shouldn’t happen or needs to be forgotten.

  3. David

    Nobody really cares about Zebulon Vance and we certainly don’t celebrate the fact he was a slaveowner. People simply appreciate the monument for its artistic value. When look at it, we think Asheville.

    If anything, just rename it to something generic. Simply tearing down a piece of art that defines the city’s center is a completely ignorant way of wasting more money and causing yet another pointless controversy to distract us from what’s important.

  4. James

    Let’s bulldoze it and erect a big dildo monument dedicated to the “human rights campaign.” I think that would be acceptable to the cultural elites in Asheville, don’t you?

    • boatrocker

      An obelisk is actually a pee pee based monument, Einstein.

      Google The Obelisk of Luxor.

      The opposite of a so called ‘elite’ would be ‘why did you sleep through history class?’

    • bsummers

      Once again, James, you’re wrong, wrong, wrong.

      Don’t bother bulldozing it, just slip the dildo over it. And then we can call it the Shvance Monument.

      See, buddy? If we work together, we’ll figure these things out.

      • Peter Robbins

        Y’all do know that the pigs at the bottom of the monument are headed in the wrong direction, don’t you? Which proves that — wait, I guess that’s a win-win, too.

  5. Native

    Yes, and while we’re at it…lets tear down Mount Vernon and bulldoze Market Street in Charleston. Let’s destroy anything of historical significance that reminds us of our nation’s history, the good ,bad and the ugly. Or better yet, lets blow it all up like DAESH did to Palmyra in Syria. Also, the huge MLK monument in Washington, DC needs to come down cause it makes me uncomfortable to have to think about the struggle for civil rights. Then we can use the grounds as a giant safe space for all the PC crybabies.

    • boatrocker

      I never would have guessed that the struggle for civil rights would have made you feel uncomfortable.
      But wait until Monday when you can pick up your sheets and hoods from the dry cleaners.

      Surprise! You live in the USA, not the CSA. The winners call you and your family sore losers and your back yard is called occupied territory, and the South ain’t gonna do it again lol lol lulz .

  6. Phil Williams

    So many folks want to sterilize our history and root out anything that contains and offensive aspect. Zebulon Vance was a dedicated leader in war and peace – he did a great deal for WNC at a time when the folks in Raleigh seemed to think that NC’s western border ended at Statesville. He was also a product of his time – a time when slavery was legal in many States, and was considered by many, even those who opposed it, to be protected by the Constitution. The monument was part and parcel of Pack Square – the square and the monument were largely funded by George Willis Pack, a Michigan timber baron who regained his health here, and the monument was designed by Richard Sharp Smith, an important local architect. The monument has historical and architectural merit, and is part of the fabric of Asheville’s history – Zeb Vance had merits and faults just like most of our Founding Fathers and early Presidents. I seriously doubt that most people, black or white, who visit Asheville, have any idea or concern about who Zeb Vance was. Perhaps Ms. Harris would like to pay for the demolition of historical monuments that offend her? Or wouldn’t such money, effort and passion be better spent in helping disadvantaged people and communities in the present day? That seems to be the odd thing about many modern liberals – they want to be identified with “the cause” and bang the drum about eradicating all traces and memories of people long dead, but they don’t seem to do so much for the people who they claim to represent.

    • The Real World

      @Phil – well said, across the board.

      Regarding your last sentence,,,,,so true! It’s because, at the end of the day, it isn’t really about the cause…. it’s about themselves. They congratulate themselves, and want the same from others, merely for claiming to believe something and spouting off about it. But, when a grand opportunity presents itself in the form of a homeless letter writer to this paper a few months ago, did that contingent jump on it with thoughtful, interested and sincere questions for the man? So they could actually LEARN the REALITY of the homeless? Nope, they did not. I called them out on it but, they remained mum and uninterested. Someday I’ll come across the article I read awhile back about there being a strong thread of self-loathing in the liberal mindset. It was pretty convincing (but maybe it’s more guilt?)

      Lastly, it doesn’t cease to amaze about some of the dumb and inconsequential sh*t people focus on in this town. Nary a week goes by……..

      • Phil Williams

        Yes – I haven’t seen or heard of these drum beaters opening their gated communities to the homeless – but they are mighty glad to attack the character of a man who died before their grandparents were born…..

  7. Jack

    ….don’t forget about the Pyramids in Egypt! Those gotta come down as well since they were built almost entirely by slaves.

    • boatrocker

      Wow! Someone conducted a deep history search for watching a Charlton Heston movie on Easter weekend!
      Yea- that’s why the Jews distrust folks like you and will never agree to let you marry their daughters. Among other reasons.

  8. boatrocker

    I have a better idea- acknowledge American history for what it is.

    Exploitation, slavery, genocide, internment camps, Jim Crown laws, injustice, and crime for being one of the youngest countries on the planet.

    Oops, sorry old angry white males, sorry to offend you. I forgot you were delicate like a flower.

    History matters,

    • The Real World

      @boatrocker – I agree! An adult faces the music; those that refuse to haven’t matured.

      We should own our history and not attempt to scrub it (there are exceptions. Like the Confederate flag….it serves no purpose today, seems to me).

      When history is forgotten (or never known) is when it gets repeated. I’m mystified at how that isn’t grasped by plenty. Must be the guilt and self-loathing thing.

      • Phil Williams

        Odd how modern folks agree there are so many shades of gray in modern issues – morality, lifestyles, behaviour of “sovereign nations”, etc, but when it comes to our own history, they want only to see black and white and don’t seem to acknowledge that the folks of different times saw things differently for a reason. I am not by any means saying that this make injustices of the past “right” in any kind of way – but there were so many things about life that were so completely different then. This “right side of history” thing that folks keep bringing up sounds plain old sinister to me.

        I reckon there is a kind of rough, poetic justice to it all – I can imagine how the Indians laughed at the first white settlers, wanting to buy or trade for that which could not be owned by men – then realizing that not only were they dead serious, but that they kept coming and taking. And so it is for the native mountaineers of WNC – our forebears wrested the land from the Indians, often thru trickery and violence, and now we have sold it to outsiders who came here because of the beauty, peace, quality of life, the “million dollar view” – and then set about changing it into versions of the places they came from and demanding that bits of our history that are offensive to them be removed. I am not saying it is entirely their fault for being here – they couldn’t have bought it if we hadn’t sold it….and they keep coming – like kudzu, starlings, feral hogs and other “invasive species”.

        Boatrocker’s comment above is true – but all of those things cannot be laid at the feet of Zebulon Vance….a lot of folks don’t realize that the integration of US Armed Forces didn’t become law until after World War Two and wasn’t enforced until the Korean War. This was not the Confederate Army, but the US Army – and so far as I know, the Confeds never massacred any Indians whereas the US Army was actively engaged in displacing and killing Indians beginning with Rutherford’s “Punitive Expedition” in 1776 and ending more or less at Wounded Knee in 1890. In fact, Confederate forces included a number of Native regiments – including the 69th Infantry (Thomas’s Legion) mostly consisted of Cherokee, Shawnee and Creek Indians who hoped to get back some of their lost lands – Stand Watie, a Confederate general and a Cherokee, was the last major Confed commander to cease hostilities after Appomattox.

        Not a single African slave was brought across the Atlantic under the Confederate flag – the trade was conducted from the 1600s to 1860 by French, Spanish, British and American traders and slaves wound up all over the New World as a result.

        I am not attempting to defend or justify slavery by any stretch – it never was good or acceptable – but – it existed all over the place, and it is not a good idea to hide it or disown everyone who had anything to do with it. History needs to be visible, especially the flawed parts, if we are going to keep learning from it.

  9. bsummers

    Besides, I would have thought that genuine conservatives would want to pull it down because of it’s Masonic cult aspects. Vance was a 3rd Degree Master Freemason (“masonry” – get it? The Vance pyramid obelisk has 33 stone layers… Do I have to spell it out for you people?!?).

    New World Order, y’all. Just sayin’…

  10. Peter Robbins

    Look, I’m willing to overlook that Zeb Vance was a slaveholder when opposition to slavery took courage. I’m willing to overlook that he took up arms against his countrymen when loyalty to the nation took courage. I’m willing to overlook that he abandoned his Unionist principles like a threadbare coat at the first sign of trouble down in South Carolina. But I can’t get past the fact that he used concentration-camp labor to build a railroad in 1870s – a project on which more than 100 victims of his racism died, some shot like dogs when they tried to escape. There were no exigent war circumstances that arguably could mitigate such an atrocity. No “man of his times” excuses. Just the single-minded determination of a sociopath. See http://mountainx.com/news/honor-system-vance-monument-restoration-raises-troubling-questions/.

    That’s who we want to honor in the center of town? That’s who embodies our spirit and fills our hearts with pride? That’s who we want our kids to look up to?

    I have heard a story where a tourist asked an Asheville police officer whose monument that was. The officer is said to have replied: “Our’n.” Imagine that — Our’n, not y’all’s.

    • Phil Williams

      Mr. Robbins, you might do a bit more research regarding the railroads in WNC – the Western North Carolina RR Company’s incorporation was ratified by the NC General Assembly in 1855 – by around 1873, the line went from Salisbury to Morganton, and reached Asheville by 1882. The WNCRR was a private endeavor the, the operation of which was taken over by the State of NC between 1880-85, and returned to private operation until it was sold to the Richmond & Danville RR Co, which became part of the Southern RR Company in 1896. Vance was NC Governor from 1862-65 and again from 1877-79, and was in office while parts of the RR were being built.

      Convict labor was used on various projects – all over the country. Lots of jobs were inherently dangerous – costing lives and limbs of not only convicts but of paid workers as well. Railroading was dangerous in most respects back then. How about all of the Chinese and Irish laborers who died building the Transcontinental RR, or the Polish and German “Sandhogs” who died building tunnels and bridges in New York? Coal miners who died from mining accidents and black lung right on up to the present day? The child laborers in mills of all kinds all over the country?

      You make it sound as if Vance managed to ramrod all of this by himself and was the only governor under whose administration convict labor was used by private industry (it is still done, you know) – but you are leaving out the motivation that pushed along “progress” then as now – moneyed interests of all kinds, corporate and governmental, did and still do. Thanks to folks like President Theodore Roosevelt and the leaders of the early labor unions, conditions are better than they were.

      And, incidentally, the monument and the square were part of Mr. George W. Pack’s gift to Asheville – kind of ironic that Pack was a native of NY who made his fortune in Michigan and came to Asheville to mend his wife’s health.

      History is history – and context is of importance whether you believe it or not, and it is not your place to overlook or judge or forgive. By your thinking, monuments to Washington, Jefferson, and many of the Founding Fathers and early Presidents and notable people of the 17th thru early 20th centuries should be taken down and put out of sight. Just about any monument to anything or anyone has some dark aspects if you look for them. Yes, it is our’n as was Governor/Senator Vance – I wonder – if the RR had not come to Asheville, so many of these howlers might not have “discovered” it and come around to build their dwellings on the ridgelines and holler about parts of our history that they disapprove of…..

      • Peter Robbins

        You’re right. It ‘s not my place to judge. Swing the wrecking ball and let the Almighty decide.

        • Phil Williams

          I am sure that you have got some sarcasm and wit intended in your remark, but, yes, I actually do believe I am not far from the truth. Colonel/Governor/Senator Vance has long ago answered to the highest court of all and is beyond human justice, revenge or reality TV…..as for using the wrecking ball on historical monuments and being selective about history, that is no answer to anything – only creates further division and attempts to revise the truth.

          • Peter Robbins

            Oh, I see. It’s your place to overlook, judge and forgive. Just as well. That job was getting to be a burden, anyway.

  11. The Real World

    @Phil – your points are relevant and well-taken. Some of us appreciate you taking the time to articulate them.

    @Peter – none of us like the bloody aspects of our history and you being troubled by the slave ownership/usage of Vance is understandable and shared. But, the arrogance of us, in this era, thinking we can cast aside people from long ago is…….beyond the pale. We aren’t better than they were, we just think we are (the arrogance thing again). There is plenty for us to answer to in 2016.

    Btw, Vance may have been a sociopath, it’s possible. But rather than spend so much energy on him, why don’t we focus intently on the sociopaths running for President this election year. Seems that we have a batch of them.

    • Peter Robbins

      Oh, come on. You know me. Beyond-the-pale arrogance is half my act.

    • Phil Williams

      Thanks mate – Mr. Robbins kind of lost me there – I don’t think I’ve presumed or suggested that I or anyone else is qualified or truly able to “overlook, judge and forgive” people of the past. In fact, I believe that right is reserved by God alone. As a student of history, I’ve always figured it was my place to learn and try to understand as much as possible – and try to maintain some objectivity. While I will disagree with folks who don’t think that way, I neither offer to judge or condemn them – I only offer a dissenting opinion – hopefully not an emotional rant or something tinged with needless sarcasm.

  12. Phil Williams

    And, Mr. Robbins, I hope that you will not feel that I was referring to or “talking at” you in my last sentence. I was talking about my own preferences. However, if that shoe happens to fit and you wish to announce the fact to all and sundry, that is, of course, your right and privilege…..

    • Peter Robbins

      Not to worry. I was letting you have the role of overlooking, judging and forgiving the sins of Vance. I’m confident that you wouldn’t dare apply any meretricious criticism to me. No one here does that.

  13. bsummers

    What about some permanent addition to the monument, that would put his record in context? I understand all the arguments that Vance was a man of his time, that he did good things as well as bad, but in the interest of racial healing, why not put his life in context. Continuing to “honor” him with a monument when so many don’t see his legacy as completely honorable will continue to be a burr in the saddle. And asking people to “just get over it” isn’t a solution.

    • Peter Robbins

      Critical context? Acknowledgement of wrongs? Racial healing? Why can’t you let go of the past?

      • Phil Williams

        “Letting go of the past” should not involve destruction of monuments, gravesites, etc. The Washington Monument, the Jefferson Rotunda, the plantations of Mt Vernon and Monticello – all could be construed to be honoring slaveholders. The prevailing argument seems to be that their contributions outweighed their sins. The same could be reasonably said of Vance. As for the obelisk, it has stood watch over the square for 120-odd years – it saw the streetcars, the horse and wagon as well as the automobile, airplanes and Man on the Moon, the filming of “Conquest of Canaan”, the visits of Presidents, the return of Soldiers from wars; it has seen buildings built and demolished, fires, accidents, struggles of ordinary citizens as well as visits of the rich and famous – there is even a nick somewhere on it that was inflicted during the “Will Harris Massacre” in 1906 – like many other things, it is part and parcel of Asheville’s identity and one can find negative things just about everywhere if they look hard enough. If folks feel so badly about the negative aspects of Vance’s life, why not put up a plaque giving that information and/or a memorial for the Black citizens of Asheville and their contributions? I would bet a gold guinea that many folks – including a many who live in Asheville have no idea who Vance was or what he did – Hell, a disturbing number of college students can’t tell you what century the Civil War was fought in, much less what it was about – Do you truly consider such ignorance of history “letting go of the past”?

        • bsummers

          If folks feel so badly about the negative aspects of Vance’s life, why not put up a plaque giving that information and/or a memorial for the Black citizens of Asheville and their contributions?

          Exactly what I just suggested…

    • Peter Robbins

      Maybe we could commission local sculptors to ring the base of the monument with little feet of clay. Lily white ones.

      • Phil Williams

        Oh, I bet ol’ Vance had some gnarly-looking feet – I’d say most folks did in those days……Anyhow, nice chatting with all you folks – I am about played out on this subject – there is a lot of truth in the old Irish saying “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Have a good day.

  14. Phil Williams

    You know – the folks of those days, North and South could be mighty complex. A lot of non-readers of History don’t realize that the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roger Taney, was a Maryland slaveholder who morally disapproved of slavery, and, in fact, manumitted his own slaves – but – by his interpretation of the Constitution, he felt that slaves were inferior and could not be considered as citizens because of the Framers’ opinion that blacks were not part of the ‘original community’ of citizens, and, as such, his infamous majority opinion in the Dred Scott Decision read that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” This from a staunch Unionist and former slaveholder. Like I said earlier, if you look into just about anything, most folks and institutions of that time bore a taint from slavery. Taney died – still holding the office of US Chief Justice – in 1864, while the War was still raging – and after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

    So suppose we tear down the Vance Monument or remove Vance’s name from it….what next, then? His birthplace near Reems Creek is a State historic site, he has a nice statue down in Raleigh – should there be a massive campaign of “De-Vance-ification” throughout the State? Not saying folks whose ancestors were abused need to “get over it”, but they ought to consider tempering their outrage with a little bit of logical thought, common sense, and a genuine view to the future where we continue to learn from the past instead of dredging up the negative aspects so they can pretend to eliminate negative feelings.

    • Peter Robbins

      Oh. Were we ignoring you as if your voice didn’t matter? I do forgot my manners when the rougher sort is speaking. Please go on. You were saying something about not dredging up negative feelings from the past.

  15. Phil Williams

    Not at all….Just thanking all for the conversation and dropping out now, having expressed my thoughts on the subject – not trying to “win” an argument, just joined in for a bit and now am done. Hoping that we continue to make one another think. I do sincerely wish everyone a good day.

    • Peter Robbins

      You forgot to say bless your heart. Do you truly think you’re a Southerner?

      • Phil Williams

        Sir, I have no desire to be snide or offer a left-handed sentiment – if I say bless your heart, it is as my Granny would have said it, with the hope that the Lord will indeed bless you. I have considered and do appreciate your argument, but do not agree with it.

        As for being a Southerner, yes, I think I am – a lifetime spent in WNC with the exception of military duty elsewhere (currently stationed at Ft Bragg, NC) and several generations back on both sides of my family do, I think, qualify me at least as a “person of Appalachian background”. However, as our Lord said to Pilate “Thou sayest” – I am listed as Phillip Charles Williams on Facebook if you feel compelled to get a better idea of me and my background. Again, have a nice day.

        • Peter Robbins

          Hmmm. I’d almost guess you don’t like being patronized and marginalized.

        • Peter Robbins

          So pay attention now, Colonel Sanders. Here’s the juice: It’s not about you and it’s not about me. And it’s certainly not about your treacly homilies. Imagine what it’s like to be one of those people patronized and marginalized every day because of assumptions people make based on superficial appearances. Imagine knowing that every same day a racist fiend from the darkest depths of North Carolina’s past is being venerated in the center of your town as if he were a great man. You might appreciate a symbolic gesture more dramatic than the weak palliatives you have proposed. And the benefits of that emotion-laden gesture (in terms of easing present-day tensions) might – just might – outweigh the cost of letting slip into obscurity a name that you yourself admit most people wouldn’t know today from a bed full of bugs.

          Now you have a nice day.

          • boatrocker

            As usual, I can see your points and agree with a good number of them.

            However, in terms of ‘darkest depths of NC’s past’, I could suggest some worse ones.
            -Cherokee Removal
            -The textile industry and child/immigrant labor
            -German doctors visiting in the 1930’s in order to learn about cutting edge (oooo- yes a pun) sterilization technology for the mentally challenged/Melungeons
            -Anything Franklin Graham says on a live mic or in print

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