Letter writer: Vance Monument debate raises issue of American historical amnesia

Graphic by Lori Deaton

One thing missing in the April 8 issue about the Vance memorial [“Honor System: Vance Monument Restoration Raises Troubling Questions,” Xpress] is how those same laws that allowed the use of African-American “prisoners” convicted of petty crimes to be used to enrich white landowners through their use as involuntary servants in the construction of infrastructure … is still going on today, with sometimes even greater zeal. The mass incarceration of minority and poor folks through arrests for minor infractions and ever-increasing fines ending in jailing is just starting to be identified as wrong, anti-civil rights actions that are aimed at continuing poor and minority folks in a permanent underclass state.

As a transplanted Northerner, I have always been amazed that the South wants to glorify its past Confederate history while being so quick to overlook its true history, both past and present, of violence, hate, impoverishment and economic and chattel slavery of people. It seems to me to be more of the “historical myth” that is so much of the social, economic and racial history of white privilege and supremacy.

We make up a history of American Exceptionalism that freely ignores our true history and glorifies a version of history that is sugar-coated and amnesiac. We push to teach this history to generation after generation, ignoring any and all ills [in] our past. But the truth is out there to be seen and revealed through books like The New Jim Crow and A People’s History of the United States and others, as well as current events throughout the South and beyond. We willfully ignore our true history because we want a fairy-tale America. Those who push forward this ignorance truly don’t understand that the real strength of a people comes from their ability to reveal the truth, and deal with it and move forward.

I support the addition of monuments to black Asheville’s past and present history past as well as history to yet be made. Let them stand next to Vance and allow people to see the full truth of Asheville’s history and decide for themselves which deserves our respect and praise.

— Michael Beech

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9 thoughts on “Letter writer: Vance Monument debate raises issue of American historical amnesia

  1. Jim

    Fail. Seeks to blame modern southern white males for the past. Refuses to see that this is modern hate on his part which apparently is OK to the apparent racist at Mountain Xpress. After all, it is PC to hate white men these days. Doesn’t acknowledge that such northern treasure troves as Detroit, where they find rotting corpses in fields a year after they died, and Chicago where 20 plus people are shot on a regular basis on the southside is the norm. And it affects predominantly blacks who are herded into sections of these cities so that others don’t have to deal with them. And both have been democratic voting cities for decades also also known for huge amounts of corruption.

  2. Jim

    And you can delete my comments all you want. It’s par for the course for the crony media establishment these days. But it won’t change the truth and that is the US is a lie for sure. One that blames its ills on white men yet never talks about the choices of anyone else.

  3. N

    “As a transplanted Northerner, I have always been amazed that the South wants to glorify its past Confederate history ”

    And as a native southerner (WNC) I have always been amazed that northerners want to move south and then try to turn it into wherever it was they moved here from. If you want to know where the “we don’t care how you did it up north” mentality comes from, look no further than this letter.

    Look, I get that the south has a bad element in its history. As a native of WNC whose ancestry here goes back many generations, I had ancestors who fought on both sides in the Civil War and I understand that the Confederate flag is the flag of a country that attacked the United States. Jim Crow was an abomination, etc. But if you don’t understand why, as you put it, “the South wants to glorify its past Confederate history ” perhaps you should get out of your little transplant bubble and get to know some southerners. Talk to them and, I know this is hard, LISTEN to them. You are here now. Obviously there was something about the south that appealed to you or you would not have moved here. Use that and try to build on it. Rather than just trying to turn this place into whatever place you felt compelled to get away from get to know and understand your new home and remember, Donna Brazile, who was born and raised in Lousianna, has said that she never experienced more racism than when she lived on Boston. Please clean up your own house before telling us.

    I can’t say that I agree with everything in Jim’s post, but he hit the nail on his head with the first word: Fail.

  4. Big Al

    Zebulon Vance’s legacy is far more than a glorification of his Civil War service as colonel of the 26th NCST or as Confederate Governor. In fact, those who glorify the Confederacy should protest and vilify Vance, not praise him. The Confederate government demanded more troops and supplies from NC while withholding promotions of NC generals to posts higher than Division level as they catered to politically powerful Virginia’s every whim. Vance withheld so many uniforms that would have clothed Confederate soldiers (especially non-NC troops) that when the first NC troops were called up for World War I, they were clothed in Confederate butternut uniforms that had been warehoused for 62 years. Clearly Vance was NOT a “team player” in the Confederate cause.

    Vance would go on to serve two more terms as North Carolina governor AFTER the state returned to the Union, and would have served as Senator to NC during Reconstruction if his service to the Confederacy had not been held against him. Vance was all about serving his state’s needs, no matter which national government he belonged to. That is what his monument “glorifies”, not the Lost Cause mythology.

    As for those who protest the “glorification” of the Confederacy, I find it most interesting that the loudest and most indignant voices do not come from NC blacks (except for a few political opportunists like “reverend” Barbour) but from transplanted northerners. If the south’s history of slavery (and the continuing ramifications) is so egregious, then why did you leave your pristine and morally superior north to come and wallow amongst us and our shame? Why don’t you go back up north and stay there? And while you are there, reflect on the wealth that was amassed by New England ship owners who brought the slaves over, then conveniently abandoned the trade just in time to indict the end-users of slavery in the South and wage war on them for their moral tardiness.

    Vance bears no more share of the blame of slavery than our greatest Americans did. George Washington owned slaves but was our greatest citizen, without whom our nation would just be a bigger part of Canada and Mexico. Thomas Jefferson, that paragon of LIBERAL virtue, used his slave women as a harem to satisfy his carnal lusts. Vance’s legacy should be considered objectively and in contrast to the times that he lived in. He is not only Asheville’s greatest public servant, but arguably North Carolina’s as well.

  5. tom cook

    This letter is so far off that I do not know where to begin. First, yes prisoners have traditionally and historically been made to work. This is justified by considering it paying a debt to society. If the justice system seems to focus unfairly on the minorities and the poor, then the justice system needs to be examined. It is not a reason to put up monuments to commemorate the achievements of blacks in Asheville. Second, although you brilliant yankees seem to have no trouble generalizing the South as being distinguished by its inherent violence, poverty, slavery, and attitude of white supremacy– quite a simple assessment of such a large group of persons–perhaps you could examine your own “true history” and try to validate the examples of hatefulness and ignorance and abuse, as well as bad manners, which are permeating your own history and present. Or perhaps you would be more comfortable back up north where you can continue to delude yourself with such stereotypes without challenge. But personal problems with the demons of the South are not a reason to erect memorials to black history either. Third, although it is true that history is complicated and often recounted with a bias, both in the north and the South, that is also not a reason to put up statues. If we were ready as a society to get over segregation and live amongst each other as equals, then we would not need to single out blacks put them up on a pedestal all by themselves, and give them recognition for being black so much as for the great contributions to the world that they have made as fellow human beings. But we are not. So with that in mind, I support honoring deserving individuals so that they may be remembered and thought of as examples of excellence for generations to come, regardless of race, gender, age, nationality, sexual preference, or any other subcategory of persons that may apply.

  6. Roger McCredie

    To say that Mr. Beech’s remarks are uninformed or underinformed is to be charitable. They are, in fact, beyond stupid. They are instructive, however, in that they provide us with an example of a mindset that is not only still with us, but is in fact the subtext of today’s conventional wisdom about the South: that we are a dark and backward land clinging perversely to , and even honoring, a past replete with cruelty, ignorance and treason. It is this combination of arrogance and ignorance that has resulted in the South’s becoming the whipping boy for the national racial guilt trip. Many northern historians and sociologists have, over the years, debunked or at least put in their proper context most of the points that comprise Mr. Beech’s rant; I, for one, hope that Southerners reading his letter will resist the temptation to lend his screed any credence by taking the trouble to refute it. That’s like trying to teach a pig to sing; it only wastes your time and annoys the pig.

  7. mule

    Cue the neo-confederates with their antebellum nonsense; next they’ll be babbling about how great blacks had it under slavery.

    • Big Al

      How is your snide comment relevant? Zeb Vance served twice as long as Governor of NC while it was part of the UNION than he did as part of the Confederacy and would have served six more years as NC Senator AFTER the war. Commemorating Vance is NOT about commemorating the Confederacy, it is about commemorating a public servant and leader of North Carolina.

  8. elmerTpudd

    I think the Vance Memorial Obelisk, all bonded up with steel, is quite sexy. I am a newly evolved sexually open citizen of Asheville who loves all sorts of sexual activities from bestiality to sadomasochism, just as long as its not heterosexual sex. Heteros are primitive and not evolved and just mess up the city and the planet with their useless hoariness and pathetic libidos. I just wish all you northerner heteros would go back home if you don’t appreciate our obelisk now in a referential state of bondage or a variety of sexual experiences other than your hetero high school sexcapades.

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