by Rev. Nathan King
On Monday night protestors at UNC-CH pulled down a memorial that had stood since 1913. The memorial had been the subject of hot debate over the years, more intensely in the past two years as America’s original sin of racism has again reared its head with the unchecked rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign and election cycle.
On the statue’s demise, people become divided over what some see as honor and heritage, and what others see as a monument to racism and slavery. So the question arises about why the statue was there in the first place. Why was it there all these years?
When I heard the story, first thing I did was read the memorial’s dedication speech by Julian Carr. Surely it closely captures the reason for the statue. The wider historical context includes a flood of similar statues’ erections in the early 1900s, and again mid-1900s, further elucidating and reinforcing that cause as noted in Carr’s dedication speech.
Carr’s June 2, 1913 speech testifies to the purpose of this statue as a monument to, a sacred stone remembering, an Ebenezer for, “the purest strain of the Anglo-Saxon” people. In other words, an inspiration of White supremacy to those who follow. The most telling excerpt of his speech is included in this photo:
You ask would I not want a memorial to my father or grandfather who fought honorably in such a war? I’m sure I had great grandfathers and great uncles who fought in the Confederacy. But they were not fighting for my rights. They were fighting for their own right to own Black men, women, and children. Having lost that war, but being allowed to remain in power permitted the erection of not-so-Silent Sam and others like him. In their placement they all continued to remind Blacks of their “place” in this world.
Some have asked about me disowning my heritage as a Southerner. I think they mean white Southerner. True. I was born and bred about 30 miles from Chapel Hill. But my heritage? It’s not my heritage. I gave that heritage up when I was 12 years old and my mother would not allow me to invite my black friend to my party in our house. I’ve given it up over and over again as I have indeed educated myself more and more in the stories of Black men, women, and children, past and present.
So I’m glad this racist reminder is now down. Place it in a museum, a mausoleum, or a cemetery where it belongs, not in any public view of the citizenry, for it is a monument to a shamefully profane, violent, inhuman system and cause.
I don’t condone its vandalization. And I can only imagine what those who toppled it were thinking as they did it. I haven’t talked to any of them. But I find it horribly troubling that folks who deny racism exists in society, and most certainly in their own lives, are quick to condemn the vandalism of a memorial erected to remember those who fought for the continued right to own and vandalize the bodies and souls of black men, women, and children. I have no use for such a memorial, nor such a heritage that inspires vandalizing other human beings, nor for the racism out of which it grows. I have a much greater heritage in Christ Jesus, my Lord.