Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Durham Civil War Soldier Statue

I agree with Gov. Roy Cooper: There's probably a better way to do this.

Like getting these Civil War symbols off public land and into museums or private venues.

But this particular metal statue -- which stood there in front of the Durham County Courthouse since 1924, looking as solid as the Confederate dollar -- turned out to be a cheap (zinc?) hollow casting, part of a mass-production made during the first two decades of the 20th century to satisfy the politics of that time. The politics of that time have not aged all that well into the 21st Century.

Work of art or commercialized pop culture from the Jim Crow South?

These statues, or others like them, went up all over and by the hundreds in the first two decades of the 20th Century. (The McNeel Marble Works in Marietta, Ga., did most of the marble ones, the famous "Standing Soldiers" and other icons, but this statue in Durham was cheap pot metal.) At the turn of the Century, these statues were prideful reactions to Northern industrial superiority and reassertions of segregationist ideology -- "Jim Crow." The money was often raised by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but sometimes local governments wanted to jump on board for obvious reasons.

In North Carolina particularly, that era followed the brief power of the Fusion Party, a coalition of populists and black and white Republicans who swept state elections in 1894, including putting approximately 1,000 black officials into office. US Congressman George H. White was one of them. The Democratic Party of that day was suddenly, conspicuously, and pretty much totally out of power everywhere in North Carolina. There's usually been a strong reactionary white wave against any conspicuous advancement of colored people (and those waves right up to the present often include traditional "Democrats" in the reactionary voting bloc). The Civil Rights movement in the '60s produced a Jesse Helms. The election of Barack Obama brought the Tea Party sweep of 2010. So can't you guess what happened at the turn of the 20th Century? Following two virtual landslides for Fusionists in the elections of 1894 and 1896, the Fusion Party was swept into oblivion in the election of 1898. Boom! Gone! And the broom used in the sweep was overt white racism:
In the 1898 “White Supremacy Campaign,” led by future U.S. Senator Furnifold M. Simmons (1854-1940), chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, the Democratic Party used identity politics to regain power. “Negro rule” and “Negro domination” became the catchphrases of the campaign. Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, was the unabashed press spokesman for white supremacy. Red Shirts, reminiscent of the Klan, intimidated blacks and thereby limited the number of Republican votes. (North Carolina History Project)
Okay, motivation is one thing, but a God-fearing and church-going populace that didn't have anything to do with putting up those statues is allowed to view them as an honored and important part of their history, speaking to sacrifice and pain and loss and not the rest of it. I certainly see the statues as part of history, too, and I haven't been inclined to bash history or attempt to erase it. The psychic juice released by the fantasy of "the lost cause" is powerful ju-ju and lives today for the Alt-Right too -- "You will not replace us!" The pious matrons of the United Daughters of the Confederacy lacked the wherewithal to question the true ingredients of that "cause," its antecedents, and its effects. I just don't know how much history the Alt-Right understands. (Well, it takes time to see yourself. We've all got our bubbles.)

The ideology of the white Democratic Party of 1900 and 1910 and 1920 has been spectacularly replaced in North Carolina politics by the Republican Party of 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, busying itself at knocking down and doing it like a raiding party of Vikings. Ta-Nehisi Coates captured very nicely the hidden agenda behind the "heritage not hate" argument: "The heritage of white supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder."


Anonymous said...

All very nice of you to say, Williamson, but with the 2015 law the General Assembly passed that prevents -- PREVENTS -- any city or county government from removing a monument without the express permission of the General Assembly -- what are the citizens to do? Sit and wait? We've waited over 150 years for you white racists to get the hell over the Civil War. You're never gonna get over it. Direct citizen action is required.

And go to hell, Durham County Sheriff. You've decided to charge the young people that the Durham City Police thought were performing a public service. Go to hell.

Larry the Liberal said...

Never mind our system of laws and of elected representatives. Mob rule is the way we should attain our objectives. It doesn't matter what the voters want - we know better what is best for all of us.
And when we get rid of these redneck symbols of our history, we can get onto the more serious work of changing the name of Boone. Why in the hell are we honoring that gun -totin, slave owning, PETA hating hillbilly?

Mount Rushmore, you're next. Half the people honored there were slave owners and another one supported separate schools for non-white children! Blow the friggin mountain up!

Jeff said...

Mob rule very aptly describes the NCGA.

Anonymous said...

News flash....the NCGA are elected by the citizens of NC. The way our system works is that citizens elect representatives who make the laws and govern us. It is called government for the people, by the people.

Who elected the assholes in Durham and gave them authority to destroy public property?

Jeff said...

How are the vote totals for the state reflected in the NCGA? Courts call it "extreme"
racial and socioeconomic gerrymandering. I stick with "mob rule."

Anonymous said...

Jeff. Perhaps you should take a high school civics course. State legislatures are elected by the people in the districts they represent - not state wide.
US Senators and presidents, on the other hand, run state wide. Ask Trump, Burr and Tillis if you need further clarification.

Jeff said...

I was a poli sci major in college and perhaps I have a better understanding of what judges call "extreme racial gerrymandering" than you, but maybe not. It may be your way of life. If you care to check out the statewide vote totals for the US House. A little skewed-duh. The NCGA is still "mob rule" for the 1%. If you're not in the 1% then maybe you're in the group Lyndon Johnson described as "getting their pockets picked and loving it."