Photo by Carolyn de Berry
A monument that marks the mass grave of about 300 unknown Confederate soldiers in Green Hill Cemetery in Greensboro was toppled over the Fourth of July weekend.
The monument, a stamped copper statue featuring a soldier gripping a musket, was found lying on the ground on the morning of July 4 or July 5, said Jake Keys, a spokesperson for the city of Greensboro, which operates the cemetery. Keys said parks and recreation employees put the monument in storage, and the city has reached out to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which owns the statue.
The burial plot and monument is privately owned and maintained, although it is in the middle of the city-owned cemetery, Keys said in an email to TCB late on Tuesday.
“I can’t speak to how it came to be, and am not sure who even knows the origins, but yes, while this resides in Green Hill Cemetery, it was on a plot that was privately owned and maintained.” Keys clarified in a follow-up email that the city cuts the grass in the cemetery, but the monument and “its hard-scraped area” are maintained by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
A plaque at the base indicates that the monument was most recently restored in 1984 by Col. John Sloan Camp 1290 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Greensboro. Calls and emails to officers of the organization were not returned at publication time.
Keys said he doesn’t know who toppled the statue.
The Confederate monument at Green Hill cemetery was erected in 1888, according to an entry for the Commemorative Landscapes website, which is maintained by the NC Department of Cultural Resources and UNC-Chapel Library.
The entry indicates that the majority of the soldiers buried at Green Hill Cemetery fell at the battle at Bentonville, which took place in Johnston County in 1865, and died after being evacuated to a Confederate hospital in Greensboro. The Greensboro Ladies Memorial Association originally interred the soldiers in a piece of land near a church on Ashe Street in the late 1860s, according to the website. When the church graveyard was abandoned in 1884, the soldiers were re-interred at the newly created Green Hill Cemetery.
Paul Ringel, a historian at High Point University, said the timing of the monument’s erection complicates any narrative that would suggest its sole purpose was to honor war dead.
“That’s when white North Carolinians are trying to seize control,” Ringel said. “We’ve had Reconstruction. All the Union troops are out of the South by 1876 and 1877. By 1888, we’re starting to get into this moment where Jim Crow is starting to creep in. A lot of people mark 1890 as the date it started. The Mississippi state constitution in 1890 is seen by a lot of people as the birth moment of Jim Crow. They started putting in literacy tests and poll taxes…. This is the first time we see white Southerners try to constitutionalize Jim Crow.
“My guess is that if this statue goes up in 1888, it’s a lot more about trying to establish white supremacy than mourning Confederate soldiers,” Ringel said. “1888 makes it more problematic than 1865.”
Ringel said if the city is helping pay for the upkeep of the Confederate monument in the cemetery, that is also problematic.
Confederate monuments have been toppled by protesters or removed by local governments, including the “Fame” monument last night in Salisbury, as part of the wave of protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
This is not the first time the Confederate monument in Greensboro has become the object of protest.
In 1969, during a period of unrest that saw the National Guard deployed in response to protests by students at NC A&T, vandals broke off a gun and hand from the statue, according to the Commemorative Landscapes website.
And on Aug. 16, 2017, four days after antiracist Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., someone threw soiled male underwear at the statue.
This story has been updated to include reporting on the ownership of the monument and burial plot.