Telling the people of North Carolina that Civil War history “belongs in textbooks and museums — not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds,” Gov. Roy Cooper wrote that his state needs to remove hundreds of Confederate monuments from places of reverence across the state.
Cooper, a Democrat, posted the editorial Tuesday in Medium, saying he was speaking out after demonstrations devolved into violence in Charlottesville. Saturday’s Unite the Right rally left three people dead: a woman killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, and two Virginia state troopers who died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the protests.
The rally was organized to fight the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
North Carolina has hundreds of similar statues, Cooper wrote, and each one has the potential to become a flash point for emotional and potentially violent debates about history, heritage and racism:
Charlottesville could have been Raleigh, or Asheboro, or any other city in North Carolina that is home to a Confederate monument. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like for a person of color to pass by one of these monuments and consider that those memorialized in stone and metal did not value my freedom or humanity. Unlike an African-American father, I’ll never have to explain to my daughters why there exists an exalted monument for those who wished to keep her and her ancestors in chains.
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.
Demonstrators in Durham apparently agreed. On Monday, they toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier that had stood in front of the Durham County courthouse since 1924. One side of the 15-foot statue’s granite pedestal depicts a Confederate flag.
— Derrick Lewis (@DerrickQLewis) August 14, 2017
Cooper is one of the most prominent voices in a growing chorus of people who want Confederate statues removed entirely or relocated to museums or other specially designated areas that put them in historical context.
Anti-Confederate sentiment intensified after nine black churchgoers were killed June 17, 2015, at a church in Charleston, in a racially motivated massacre.
The killer, Dylann Roof, was seen on one website holding a gun in one hand and a Confederate flag in the other. The tragedy mobilized once-hesitant Southern cities to get rid of polarizing Civil War statuary.
On Tuesday, the Lexington, Ky., city council voted to move forward on a proposal to remove two Confederate statues from the lawn of the historic Fayette County courthouse, the Herald-Leader reported.
Mayor Jim Gray, who announced the plans Saturday, told The Washington Post that moving the statues was a “test of our core values” and that the monuments stand in the way of Lexington’s attempts to position itself as a progressive new South city that respects all people.
Hours after the city council’s vote, the city of Baltimore hauled away the city’s four Confederate monuments — a quiet pre-dawn removal with little fanfare. Photos showed a crane lifting the Jackson-Lee monument, whose pedestal had been spray-painted with the words “Black Lives Matter.”
In 2016, there were more than 700 Confederate monuments, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated. Most were in North Carolina, Virginia or Georgia.
Cooper’s post about the monuments recommended that the North Carolina legislature repeal a 2015 law that prevents people from removing or relocating monuments without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission, according to the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer.
Cooper said he’s also asked the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to figure out how much it would cost to remove monuments from state property, and to determine whether they can be relocated to museums or historical sites.
Cooper said his stance was motivated in large part by the violence that broke out in Charlottesville — and a desire to avoid similar carnage in North Carolina.
He also wrote that he wants the legislature to defeat a bill that gives motorists who strike protesters immunity from liability.
Similar laws have passed in other states, which activists see as condoning violence against them and standing in the way of their right to protest.
“The Senate should kill it. Full stop,” Cooper wrote. “Those who attack protesters, weaponizing their vehicles like terrorists, should find no safe haven in our state.”