Tear Down This Monument?

A Civil War

February, 25, 2009, by Rusty

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Most Raleighites are familiar with the City of Oaks’ most infamous statue, the Confederate Monument on Union Square. Even short time visitors are likely to be greeted by the towering Confederate soldiers guarding the State Capitol, provided they spend any time downtown.

Recent cries from columnist Peder Zane implore the newly elected governor to “tear down this monument.” This rallying cry harkens back to Reagan’s challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” but the likening of the seventy-five foot tall monument to the largest and most concrete symbol of decades of communist oppression is a bit much. Zane’s article is not without merit and makes some damning points about the history of this monument. The memorial is indeed more than simply a monument to fallen soldiers, having been built amidst the racially charged elections of the late 1890s. The construction was celebrated amongst white supremacists at the time. Even the News & Observer, a mouthpiece for the largely racist Democratic Party at the time, cheered the monument with the headline, “The City Still Ours… No Negro Rule in Raleigh.” Mr. Zane’s argument is thorough, leaving little room for opposition. In a followup piece,  we hear more of same, including the airing of some of the worst public response letters to the original piece, including the ubiquitous “It’s about heritage, not hate” and all the usual state’s rights arguments that we native North Carolinians have come to know so dearly. In the end, we are left with the statement:

The strongest arguments against my position held that the monument simply honors the sacrifices of the more than 40,000 Tar Heels who perished in that bloody war and that, even if we disagree with their cause, it is wrong to erase history.

I, for one, couldn’t disagree more. This call to forget the worst of our past smacks more of George Orwell’s Memory Hole than the fall of the Soviet Union. No doubt some would liken this memorial to the flying of Confederate Colors over the South Carolina capitol, but that comparison is disingenuous at best. What is at stake here is not the national flag of a defeated nation flying over the seat of state government, but a memorial of our dark collective past in a prominent public square. What better place for this discourse to take place than right in front of the Capitol building itself?

Instead of using the possibility of government funding for new public art as an opportunity to forget the past and springboard into a personal rant on destroying an important piece of our state’s history, perhaps the first piece of public art funded via this new dedicated stream should be a response to the Confederate Memorial. Why “tear it down” when there is such a grand opportunity to educate the public, particularly our children, about our horrific past and how it has helped shape who we are today? Certainly there is a strong argument to be made in favor of moving these pieces from such a prominent display to some alternate location, or perhaps incorporating new pieces of art into the capitol square as part of the continuing dialogue on race in our state and nation. But to suggest outright tearing the piece down is more than shortsighted; it’s dangerous.

Just as those who tout the inauguration of Barack Obama as the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement and seek to magnify a symbolic moment forget that it is only the beginning of an opportunity to heal many wounds, so too do those who declare that this memorial “no longer reflects the feelings of North Carolinians” overestimate the state of our society. They might as well be George W. Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln declaring “Mission Accomplished.”

I’ll leave you with this:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  —George Santayana

Before tearing down this monument we should take a good hard look at ourselves, our city, and our state. Don’t we have quite a way to travel before we can claim to be free from the damage done by the sin of slavery?

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  • Kurt
    02/25 05:47 PM

    At the N&O, not only is ignorance bliss, it’s in the style guide ;-)

  • Dana
    02/25 06:54 PM

    Do we really want to go down the road of evaluating whether or not “our” position on any particular war determines whether or not the fallen are honored?

  • Adrian Hands
    02/25 07:14 PM

    Memorializing the dead is one thing, but glorifying war is quite another.  How about we get rid of all the ****ing monuments to war?

  • JoeTarheel
    02/25 09:45 PM

    If this jackass’ argument is accepted, then we need to get the demolition machines to DC to tear down the “White House”, the Capitol, and virtually any other building that is over 200 years old since slaves actually ‘built these structures’.....

  • arthurb3
    02/25 10:26 PM

    Stupid idea and a waste of money! Monuments are also reminders of periods of time and the right and wrong that were carried out in those times!

  • DPK
    02/26 12:56 AM

    Monuments serve as reminders of our past history.  Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.

  • Live Raleigh
    02/26 01:58 AM

    I strongly believe we should keep this monument. It is a relic of a time which has passed and is part of our states Civil War tourism.

    Never forget our Mountains were very Union and our eastern part of North Carolina was captured by the North very early in the war. Our state was also the last state to join the south in the Civil War.

    Even though we were the last to join, our state gave up the most dead. Our soldiers were the foot soldiers while Virginia and South Carolina provided the Generals and Officers. Neither VA or SC gave up many of their own sons.

    Before we destroy this monument, our state should honor our black community by saving their many unprotected historical sites.

    Before removing history, we should save the history which has been forgotten and pushed aside.

    OH yea…. That monument is a structure which prevents a truck bomb from being driving at a fast speed into our old Capital. It would have to be replaced with a collision proof structure to prevent an act of violence against our Governor and the staff in the old Capital. Not everything is what it seems to be.

  • smitty
    02/26 02:48 AM

    I hope someone decides to throw away Peder Zane’s headstone after he dies.

  • Tony Woodard
    02/26 04:19 AM

    Shame on you New Raleigh for allowing this view to be expressed in such a trite, ill though out way.

    If the arguement used to refuse Plensa’s plan for the plaza was used here the monument would have never have been built in the first place. It RUINS the view of the Capitol from the heavily traveled Hillsborough St. approach.

    Rusty, you say ‘...likening of the seventy-five foot tall monument to the largest and most concrete symbol of decades of communist oppression is a bit much’. I disagree as this is the largest, oldest (well, not really, one in NC is older), most visable granite symbol of a war fought over the support of CENTURIES of something many think far worse than communism. To paraphrase a slogan from the Vietnam era, I have never heard a communist call me a nigger.

    You say that by tearing down the memorial we will forget the war and it’s causes and run the risk of repeating them. You imply that by losing a memorial we run the risk of the enslavement of half of the population? What a joke! You don’t even believe that. It just makes good copy to quote a respected playwright.

    You then go on to suggest that the monument shouldn’t be torn down considering all of the OTHER existing wounds that haven’t been addressed. I am even MORE uncomfortable with this logic and it’s obviously, atleast to me, circular logic.

    It all stinks. Just stinks, stinks, stinks.

  • RaleighRob
    02/26 09:25 AM

    I fully understand the argument that the monument is for those who died in it, not necessarily saying “we still support the confederacy”, like waving a confederate flag would be.  So I don’t really have a problem with the monument, per se.

    That said, I DO think we should be remembering our history more accurately—-NC lost men on both sides.  Many North Carolinians fought for the Union too (particularly from the western part of the state, plus many freed slaves). 

    Therefore I submit that we keep the “To Our Confederate Dead” monument and then build next to it a “To Our Union Dead” monument too.  This way, we recognize that the war was horrible…yes we picked the wrong side, but some of us supported the right side too.

  • Taylor
    02/26 10:04 AM

    I couldn’t be more proud to be a Southerner.  Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore the universally accepted fact that the South fought during the Civil war to keep the institution of slavery intact. The Confederacy needed slave labor to preserve their economic engine, the cotton industry, and had no qualms about enslaving other human beings as a means to their prosperity. 

    But even in the 1860’s there was no legitimate argument that slavery was morally acceptable.  In fact, the U.S. was one of the last remaining countries in the world to outlaw its practice.  Those still in favor of slavery by this time in history were either blinded by greed, afraid of change or just plain ignorant. 

    It’s unfortunate that our Southern ancestors found themselves in this position, but we are doing a service to no one by trying to justify what is unjustifiable under the guise of “heritage”.  Let’s not play dumb to the fact that we can remember our brethren who were on the wrong side of history without honoring them in such a public way. 

    There are many valid points to be made on both sides of the monument issue here.  But the overriding argument to me is that we should not honor those who fought so they could systematically enslave others.

    Keep the monument to preserve history, but move it to a more appropriate place…  I would go a step further and suggest we replace it with a monument dedicated to North Carolinians who were commited to the reconstruction of our nation - something everyone can be proud of.

  • Stimmel
    02/26 11:11 AM

    Has the idea of a re-dedication been considered?

    The monument is part of Raleigh’s history, as is confederacy and slavery. Don’t tear it down, instead rededicate it to all North Carolinian servicemen and women that have fought a died protect this State, both confederate or otherwise.

  • smitty
    02/26 12:30 PM

    Those men didn’t fight for slavery, they fought because they were drafted by the state government to fight and die.  Damn right they should get a monument.  Our history has been whitewashed enough, leave it alone.

  • T-Plain
    02/26 01:18 PM

    Agreed. The “confederate dead,” for the most part, were conscripted and never owned a slave in their lives. If it was a monument to Jefferson Davis I could maybe see the point. But it’s not. It’s a monument to mainly poor folks who were required to fight the union soldiers. Revisionists would have us believe that the average confederate soldier rode off to war with a white hood and a shootin’ iron while his slaves worked the fields.

  • ct
    02/26 02:54 PM

    I’m a native of Alabama, and in this one instance I believe Alabama got it right. No Confederate monument near the Alabama capitol—and they have a lot more of them than NC does—has been removed. However, numerous new memorials and museums specific to the Civil Rights movement were built in the vicinity of the capitol. After all, Dr King’s church (Dexter Avenue Baptist) is two blocks down the street from the capitol.

  • Live Raleigh
    02/26 03:04 PM

    “Don’t tear it down, instead rededicate it to all North Carolinian servicemen and women that have fought a died protect this State, both confederate or otherwise.”

    It is a good idea but the Federal Government will not allow us to treat these men and women as US Soldiers. Since they were a rebel army fighting to over throw the American government, our confederate dead are considered outlaws. This is why the Confederate graves in Oakwood are protected by private money.

  • Dan
    02/26 05:23 PM

    Does this mean that MLK statues get a revised placard saying “plagarist and philanderer”?

  • Greg
    02/27 10:25 AM

    Tearing down a monument to dead people feels uncomfortable.

    Besides that, this desire to remove things from life because the represent the wrong beliefs seems trivial and annoying to me. I like that we have disturbing artifacts from an uncomfortable past intruding into our neat modern lives.

  • oakcity
    02/27 02:53 PM

    just get over it!!

    its a war thats done and gone, can we not honor people who died?
    its not like there’s a freakin’ clansman on the top of that thing, its a memorial to people from NC that died in that war. thats it!

    should we “rededicate” memorials to 911 victims because there were terrorists involved? should we not have any memorials to those that fell in vietnam, even though we should have never been in that war and it was just plain wrong? maybe we should not have any monuments to george washington either, he did own slaves and grew that god awful hemp. i guess we’ll have to dig up oakwood cemetery as well. the capital? ooops pretty sure some slaves helped build that one, dismantle it and use the pieces to build a bridge of political correctness or something. hell richmond will have to to completely rebuild itself now, nuke the whole thing and start over.

    i’ve been looking at that monument for over 35 years and never once have i thought that it was offensive, and i’m as liberal as you can get.

    why don’t we worry about the crime in our city, or poverty, or unemployment, but for christs sake leave that thing alone, we have more important things to worry about.

  • oakcity
    02/27 03:00 PM

    couple more things.

    there was lot more involved with the civil war than just slavery, yes that played a part, a major part but that was not the reason for the whole conflict, and the majority of these poor, disheveled soldiers were not slave owners, they couldn’t afford to be!! they were poor!!

    now if this monument said “to the soldiers that died to keep slavery cool” or something like that, then yeah i’d say tear that puppy down, but thats not what its about.

    sorry for the rant but this really pisses me off, raleigh continuously tears down anything that might actually be historical or give this city we call home some kind of identity.

    people of raleigh i beg you to not forget your history, like it or not, right or wrong it is who we are!! and if you relocated here and see some things you might not like, then go home.

  • Joe
    02/27 03:41 PM

    thoughtful article. thanks.

  • WeLost--getOverIt
    02/27 03:48 PM

    A guy holding a rifle is NOT how you memorialize those killed in war.  Tear it down.

  • oakcity
    02/27 04:15 PM

    maybe we should put some flowers in his hand.

    that’ll fix everything.

  • WeLost--getOverIt
    02/27 04:35 PM

    What REAL memorials look like:


  • nate
    02/27 04:47 PM

    “should we “rededicate” memorials to 911 victims because there were terrorists involved?”

    This is a ridiculous statement.  The 911 monuments are for the victims not the terrorist, but I suppose that Afghanistan might be having this argument in 100 years or so for the monuments of their current “heroes”.

  • Big Wolf
    02/27 05:13 PM

    If, as you suggest “monuments serve as reminders of our past history” & “monuments are also reminders of periods of time and the right and wrong that were carried out in those times” would you have us re-erect the Saddam Hussein statues in Baghdad?

  • Al
    02/27 05:52 PM

    It’s easy. It’s called direct action of the sort that a bud and I had planned, for years, for Jesse before the old turkey-neck bastard tricked us and fuggin died. The ingredients are a stencil,a spray bottle of muriatic acid and one ballsey mofo . Use your imagination. I was voting for REPENT and representations of barbed wire for Jess.

  • oakcity
    02/27 06:02 PM

    ok so maybe the 911 thing wasn’t the correct analogy

    but we still shouldn’t erase our history, and this is our history, whether you like it or not. no i wouldn’t rebuild a statue of hussein, thats a situation where that man put that up himself, it was a symbol of an existing tyranny, and tearing it down was a symbol of the end of that regime (and the start of another bunch of BS, but thats not what this is about) at the same time, i wouldn’t tear down a statue of lenin either, thats a symbol of where russia was, and can show just how far it has come.

    just as we should see this monument and think about how far we have come.

  • James Sutton
    02/28 12:06 PM

    Maybe the solution isn’t tearing down this monument but rather putting up another one. 

    Unless you argue that the MLK statue WAY down MLK Blvd is “in” downtown there are actually no statues or monuments honoring African-Americans in downtown Raleigh.  Meanwhile, there are actually TWO statues who honor self-proclaimed white supremicists. 

    I wouldn’t be in favor of even tearing THESE down (I think those men contributed great things to this State in spite of their views), but let’s even things up a little bit.  Especially since there are African American men and women from this city who deserve to be honored. 

    There are plenty of notible candidates ... Lunsford Lane, John Chavis, Anna Julia Cooper (just to name a few of Raleigh’s great African-Americans). 

    Why not a monument to honor one of these fine people?  Or a monument to honor slaves in general.

  • oakcity
    02/28 03:27 PM

    excellent suggestion!!!

  • Otto
    03/01 08:46 PM

    I’ve been saying to tear it down for awhile. It obstructs a decent view of the, already small, capital building

  • Andrea
    03/02 06:44 PM

    “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.” - Abraham Lincoln

  • Big Wolf
    03/03 08:20 AM

    There is a lot more to our history than the civil war:


  • Kimberly
    03/05 02:30 PM

    What a load of horse poo.

    The confederates didn’t fight to keep slavery intact.  They fought because the North was attacking them.  It wasn’t until near the end of the war that Lincoln (who frequently used the N word) decided to free slaves if the Union won.  Zane along with several others needs to go back to 11th grade and take US History again.

    Yes, slavery was bad and wrong, but the affliction the North was trying to pull over on the South was much worse.

  • Kris
    03/12 07:09 AM

    This is a joke, right? Surely this Zane fellow is not so ignorant as to honestly believe that tearing down such a prominent piece of our history would somehow make North Carolina a better place to live. It’s just this revisionist style of BS PC politicking that takes the truth from the average citizen entitled it. Would anyone here argue that the Taliban destroying Buddhist statues did the world a service? That may not be the world’s best analogy but as far as I’m concerned, suggesting the destruction of such a seminal and well-known mark of our history is tantamount to yelling fire in our theatre - not a 1st amendment affront so much as simply in taste not becoming an author of prominent “news” in our good old North State.

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  • JT
    08/29 10:17 PM

    Germany doesnt hang its swastikas up anymore. The monument is a symbol of oppression and evil—TEAR IT DOWN. If you want to learn southern history with all its racism and oppression just pick up a book or go to school—No need to GLORIFY IT.

  • smitty
    08/30 11:27 AM

    Great necropost JT!  BTW, Germany has lots of memorials to soldiers killed in WWII.

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