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Drop the monument

September 23, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

With the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors beginning later this week, we're glad that while visitors to Winston-Salem will doubtlessly enjoy our many attractions and amenities, we won't have to explain to them why a modern, business-friendly city like ours still has a Confederate monument standing downtown. It was removed in March 2019 after being declared a public nuisance and we feel it's safe to say that it's generally not been missed.

For that matter, we're glad it wasn't there to mar our highly valued National Black Theatre Festival in August. It would have been a thumb in the eye of the cultured celebration.

Similar decisions, here and elsewhere, have led to similar removals of dishonorable monuments. Virginia removed or renamed 71 Confederate monuments or symbols in 2020; North Carolina did so with 24.

And rightly so. It's undeniable that such monuments honor people who fought -- or were led to fight -- on behalf of the cruel practice of slavery and the belief in white supremacy -- and against the United States.

But these facts have not diminished the desire of the statue's sponsor, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), to seek redress from the courts. After failing to make any headway in the Forsyth County Superior Court or the state Court of Appeals, the organization took its case to the N.C. Supreme Court in August, where it's now being deliberated.

The statue was first erected in 1905 -- and there it stood for more than a hundred years, much longer than the Confederacy itself existed.

But following the dramatic and violent "Unite the Right" rally of white supremacists in Charlottesville in 2017, many communities began to reexamine their Confederate monuments and what they might be supporting. Winston-Salem's statue was dismantled and put in storage in 2019.

The N.C. legislature has regularly passed laws to protect Confederate monuments and prevent local communities from removing them, most recently in 2015.

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County were able to bypass that block because the property on which the statue stood had been sold to a private company, which agreed that it should be removed.

But the UDC claims that the ownership of the statue isn't clear and should be established by the court. If it can claim ownership, that opens the possibility of reinstalling the statue.

So it's fighting, at great expense, to restore a symbol of hatred and division.

Winston-Salem is not the only community still struggling with what should be a settled issue. In Alamance County, where protests have erupted over a Confederate statue in Graham, a Superior Court judge last week dismissed a case for removal brought by the local NAACP branch. Similar cases are pending in Gaston and Iredell counties.

The UDC has options -- Winston-Salem has said it would hand the statue over if it could be placed on private property, "so that it can be enjoyed by other individuals who enjoy seeing such monuments," as City Attorney Angela Carmon put it.

But that's not good enough for the UDC. It must put its thumb in the community's eye.

Human beings are complicated and multi-faceted. We're sure there are individuals in the UDC and elsewhere who somehow sincerely see past the evil enacted by the Confederacy, to their own family history or some sense of "heritage."

But the day has long passed for memorializing people who went to war to maintain the right to own human beings as property.

The UDC seems to have little regard for how its monument affects the African-Americans whose ancestors were once the victims of this evil practice or those who would prefer we emphasize our equality and shared humanity. If its members can retain some sense of regard for their ancestors, they should also have some regard for their ancestors' victims.

And if they can't, they should work to find that private property where they can express their fealty in private.

This isn't the most pressing issue of the day -- and that's the point. We have more important matters to deal with than an unworthy cause that survived for fewer than four years yet cost the South so much. The UDC should withdraw its case and move on.

-- Winston-Salem Journal, Sept. 20

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