Thursday, May 26, 2011

The South Shall Rise Again. Maybe.

Growing up in the South, I'm pretty familiar with some of the less savory aspects of our country's racial history. The Ku Klux Klan had a regional chapter that frequently marches in my small hometown's Christmas parades. Seeing dozens of trucks adorned in Confederate flag regalia parked outside the Piggly Wiggly was an everyday occurrence. Statues of people who fought (and died!) in the name of preserving slavery are scattered across the landscape of rural North Carolina. I'm quite honestly so desensitized to this sorta stuff that it barely phases me. It just sorta is what it is.

That said, I can equally comprehend the motives of those who would rather see such relics of the past preserved and done away with. One man's symbol of oppression is another man's symbol of heritage and patriotism. Again, it just sorta is what it is. And that's why I'm a bit conflicted about a controversy brewing in another small rural town, not unlike the one I was raised in.
An unlikely traffic accident Monday morning has rekindled an ongoing debate that underlies generations-old racial tensions in Reidsville (NC). A van driven by Mark Anthony Vincent slammed head-on into the Confederate Soldiers Monument at the traffic circle at Scales and Morehead streets in downtown Reidsville about 4:30 a.m. Vincent, 40, of Greensboro, told police he fell asleep at the wheel.

The van hit the 100-year-old monument’s pillar, sending the stone soldier tumbling. The statue’s body broke into about 15 pieces, Mayor James Festerman said. And the head wound up embedded in the van.

“I’m glad he knocked the sucker down,” said James Monte, a black man and lifelong resident of Reidsville. “They ought to knock all that stuff down.”

Monte had been in the library Monday morning when he noticed the commotion around the statue. Tim Martin, another lifelong Reidsville resident, sat on a bench just feet away as Monte talked about his disgust over the statue. Martin, a white man, chimed in. “It’s part of my heritage,” Martin said. “I hate to see it go, and they better put it back up.”

Their sentiments were shared by many who walked through downtown on Monday. Festerman said he’d already received several phone calls demanding that the city repair the statue and he expected more calls in support and opposition.

“There’ll be some controversy around it,” Festerman said. “I’m not naive enough to think differently.”

Festerman said he’ll suggest that the City Council form a public committee to make a recommendation about how to move forward.

But the issue of repairing the statue appears to be out of the city’s hands. The monument, erected in 1910, is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Johnsie Hayes, an officer with the local chapter, said members will look to the state office to decide how to proceed.

In recent decades the monument has drawn criticism for being insensitive to the blight of slavery. Last year city officials backed out of a 100-year anniversary celebration of the monument planned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The city cited scheduling problems, although many felt it was because of the controversy around the monument.
You can look at this two ways, and quite honestly, I don't think either's totally invalid. To folks who see Confederate symbols as a reminder of a shameful time in our nation's history, toppling that statue is a welcome change. Still, it's not like there was a public forum about the future of the statue that resulted in it being removed. It was involved in a freak traffic accident, and accidentally destroyed. Making this accident the impetus for the permanent removal of the statue smacks of a wee bit of opportunism. And it's not like the city can claim financial hardship as the reason for not rebuilding it.

As disdainful as I personally find such monuments, reality is the United Daughters of the Confederacy has every right to rebuild it if they see fit. Any public ultimatum on the future of this statue, or statues like it, should be conducted independently of this incident. Using this misfortune to seize the moment and make your point seems a bit misguided, and dare I say it, unfair.

I'm sure plenty of ya'll will roast me for this.

But it is what it is.

Question: Should the city be allowed to re-build the statue or is this a great time to do away with the past?

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