Governor Cooper, civil rights advocates agree: It’s time for the monuments to come down and for North Carolinians to unite against racism

By: - August 16, 2017 5:00 am
Image: Adobe Stock

In the aftermath of last Saturday’s tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, large numbers of North Carolinians are finally waking up to the reality that their state is peppered with dozens of public monuments that honor and celebrate the confederate leaders who fought to permanently enshrine racism and preserve slavery in America.

Two years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory enacted a state law that forbids local governments from removing such monuments without state approval, but now, new and powerful voices are rising up to express a contrary position. Here, below, are excerpts from (and links to) statements by Governor Roy Cooper, Karen Anderson, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and North Carolina NAACP President, Rev. William Barber II decrying the continued existence of these monuments and urging strong public action to reject racism and racism-inspired public policies.

From Gov. Cooper’s statement:

Some people cling to the belief that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. But history is not on their side. We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery. These monuments should come down.

Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums?—?not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds. And our history must tell the full story, including the subjugation of humans created in God’s image to provide the back-breaking labor that drove the South’s agrarian economy.

I understand the frustration of those fed up with the pace of change. But after protesters toppled a statue in Durham Monday night, I said there was a better way to remove these monuments.

My first responsibility as governor is to protect North Carolinians and keep them safe. The likelihood of protesters being injured or worse as they may try to topple any one of the hundreds of monuments in our state concerns me. And the potential for those same white supremacist elements we saw in Charlottesville to swarm the site, weapons in hand, in retaliation is a threat to public safety.

It’s time to move forward. And here’s how I plan to do that.

First, the North Carolina legislature must repeal a 2015 law that prevents removal or relocation of monuments. Cities, counties and the state must have the authority and opportunity to make these decisions.

Second, I’ve asked the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to determine the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property as well as alternatives for their placement at museums or historical sites where they can be studied in context.

Third, the North Carolina legislature should defeat a bill that grants immunity from liability to motorists who strike protesters. That bill passed the state House and remains alive in the Senate. The Senate should kill it. Full stop. Those who attack protesters, weaponizing their vehicles like terrorists, should find no safe haven in our state.

Conversations about race and our past are never simple or easy. They are deeply personal and emotional. As President Lincoln said, we must do this work ‘with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds.’ President Lincoln was on point: we must do what we know is right, and we must do it the right way.”

Click here to read the entire statement.

ACLU of North Carolina executive director Karen Anderson in a statement issued yesterday:

The Confederacy sought to protect slavery, dissolve the Union, and preserve white supremacy. While Confederate armies ultimately failed to achieve those first two goals, the monuments erected in their memory under Jim Crow were and remain vile symbols of white supremacy and the terrorization of communities of color across the country.

Every day that these monuments to white supremacy remain standing on North Carolina’s public land, our government sends a message that it endorses the oppression and inequality that they represent.

We call on the General Assembly and Governor Cooper to repeal the 2015 law barring the removal of such monuments and to take immediate steps to ensure that these shrines to white supremacy and racial violence are no longer allowed on land that is meant for all members of the public.

The renewed rise of white supremacy and the violence perpetrated by neo-Nazi terrorists in Charlottesville are painful reminders of how much work remains to challenge and defeat systems of hate and racial oppression in our nation. As a former slave state adorned with many monuments to the Confederacy’s racist cause, North Carolina must confront its own history, acknowledge the shameful message these statues send, and take action to remove them.

But the work to undo white supremacy cannot end there. From voter suppression to mass incarceration, the tools of Jim Crow are still being deployed to attack the rights of Black and Brown North Carolinians. State leaders must live up to the principles of liberty and justice for all by removing monuments and shrines to white supremacy and rooting out racial injustice throughout the law.”

Click here to read the entire ACLU of NC press release.

Rev. Barber, two years ago when North Carolina lawmakers and then-Governor Pat McCrory enacted the law banning removal of the monuments:

The Governor and legislature passed this law approximately one month after the Charleston massacre, knowing the kinds of sentiments it would elicit among people who hold white supremacist views….These monuments were erected 50 years after the Civil War. These monuments reflect that moment of white ascendancy….[The law] underscores the cynical posturing of protecting monuments that represent a racist legacy before protecting voting rights, healthcare, public education, criminal justice reform, living wages, women’s rights, the environment, and all citizens of this state.”

Click here to read the entire story.

Rev. Barber yesterday in a statement reacting to Charlottesville:

These are the questions we must ask of our political leaders after Charlottesville:

  • Will they issue a Joint Call and Resolution for the dismantling of all alt-right (i.e. white nationalist) policies and the immediate termination for cause of all government personnel who promote race-hatred from inside the White House, including Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller?
  • Will they fully reinstate the Voting Rights Act to stop racist voter suppression and gerrymandering?
  • Will they acknowledge the racist voter suppression practices in 2016 and endorse the unanimous decision of SCOTUS about racial gerrymandering in North Carolina?
  • Will they stop racializing Obamacare and claiming everything Obama did is bad, following the white nationalist narrative?
  • Will they stop racist attacks on immigrants and oppose the RAISE Act and extreme deportation policies that are tearing undocumented families apart?
  • Will they condemn political rhetoric and policies that target the LGBTQ, Jewish, and Islamic communities?
  • Will the renounce the use of racial fear to justify the continued escalation of a war on terror and the perpetuation of a war economy of limitless growth?
  • Will they challenge and stop Attorney General Sessions from ending affirmative action?
  • Will they increase and call for support of federal investigation of unarmed blacks killed by police?
  • Will they repent of how silent they were when Trump promoted birtherism to the delight of all white nationalists for years as he was building a racist base for his campaign?
  • Will President Trump and the evangelicals who have embraced him repent of the race-baiting and hate-baiting Trump used in his campaign and continues to use? Or will they keep silent and continue to consecrate his actions with their prayers and support?

To say you are against white supremacy without standing against the rhetoric that emboldens white supremacists and the policies they endorse reeks of a terrible ignorance or deliberate hypocrisy. First, remove the beam from your own eye. First, drain your own swamp.

After Charlottesville, our nation is presented with a clear fork in the road. We must make a moral choice. We can take the righteous road of repair, as we were urged to do by the realistic recommendations of the Kerner Commission, following several major riots in our largest cities in 1967. Or we can, as we did half a century ago, follow those who would lead our nation down the road of denial and retreat….

Let us be clear: white supremacy is not now nor has it ever been a strictly Southern sin. The statue of Robert E. Lee for which extremists in Charlottesville were willing to kill was installed during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat from New Jersey, after he played ‘Birth of a Nation’ in the White House. 100 years before Donald Trump and the Republican Party courted white nationalists, Wilson used this nation’s bully pulpit to uplift the narrative of white nationalism. Racism is not a partisan or regional issue in America. It is our nation’s original sin.

Still, we know that another way is possible. Following this nation’s Civil War, during Reconstruction, and again during the Second Reconstruction of the 1950s and 60s, moral leaders came together from both sides of the aisle to repent of this nation’s sins and turn toward rebuilding a nation for all. Every effort for reconstruction in America has required a movement of people coming together across the dividing lines of race, class, and party to engage our deepest moral traditions and imagine new possibilities. Now is the time for a Third Reconstruction in America. We who believe in freedom insist that we are going forward together, not one step back.”

Click here to read Rev. Barber’s entire statement.

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