Editorial: Monumental mistakes

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columbia monument
The sun glints off the confederate soldier monument in front pf the South Carolina State House in Columbia.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. was billed as a protective action to defend a Confederate war memorial statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the man who almost but not quite turned the tide for an army that had declared war on the United States.

We as a country don’t generally build monuments to the people who shot at us. There is no memorial in New York City commemorating the brave hijackers who brought down the Twin Towers. There is nothing in Oklahoma City to lionize Timothy McVeigh. We don’t celebrate the U-boats that cruised our coastline during World War II.

In Charlottesville, a genteel Southern city, residents voted in February to remove this statue and sell it, a far-too-late reckoning that nonetheless attempted to right the wrongs of previous generations.

Like a lot of Confederate monuments, this one went up in the 1920s, a silent enforcer of the Jim Crow system perpetrated in the South by government, media and other institutions. The next big wave of Confederate memorialism came during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. Anyone care to guess why?

We don’t generally built monuments to the people who shot at us.

The freaky alt-right white boys came to town to protect something the city had already collectively decided it no longer wanted nor needed. And everybody knows how that worked out.

This couldn’t happen in North Carolina, not because our people are more enlightened and civil than the Charlottesvillians upon whom this tragedy was visited. It couldn’t happen here because, by law, cities and counties are no longer allowed to decide for themselves if they want to keep their statues of traitors who took up arms against the US.

It passed in 2015, with the benefit of votes from almost every state House Republican in Forsyth and Guilford Counties: Reps. John Blust, Debra Conrad, John Faircloth, Jon Hardister and Donny Lambeth.

Rep. Julia Howard had an excused absence that day.

And yet, a couple days after Charlottesville, a monument came down in Durham anyway, wrenched by activists off its pedestal and onto history’s scrap heap.

The lesson to the state legislature is the same one imparted by the people who erected these statues in the first place: The victors do not always get to write the history.