“We didn’t brave the elements of rain and ice and cold to debate with anyone,” Miranda Jones said, addressing a multiracial crowd gathered along West Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem to support removal of the Confederate statue on Sunday.
“We came on the side of right to demand that this Confederate statue come down,” Jones said. “We came to demand that the toppling of this statue will also be the toppling of the systems that crush black people.”
Across the street, a white group, almost exclusively men, responded by raising their voices to sing “Dixie.”
Jones has been calling for the removal of the Confederate monument on the grounds of the Old Forsyth Courthouse since August 2017. In the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of an antiracist protester, Jones held a small protest at the Winston-Salem monument with a colleague and spoke to city council. The reaction from monument supporters was swift: Her school received a letter stating, “Keep your Democratic hands off our statue, you piece of s***. The statue’s not the reason the schools are failing.” And one commenter said on the Winston-Salem Journal website that Jones needed to “be gutted like a fish.”
Upon learning that a neo-Confederate group planned to rally in support on the monument, Jones organized a counter-demonstration, Get Hate Out of Winston-Salem. Democratic Socialists of America, the International Socialist Organization, Revolutionary Action Movement, Young Democrats of Forsyth County and Fearless Winston-Salem co-hosted the event, which also drew allies from Greensboro and Orange County.
Jones and other speakers said antiracists shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between struggling against symbols of the Confederacy and against current manifestations of white supremacy.
“It’s tied to a system of white supremacy,” Jones said. “It’s tied to the disparity in wealth and health. This is the beginning of a fight. This is not the end. We don’t want the most marginalized and oppressed people in our society to have to see that statue, and we don’t want the most marginalized and oppressed people in our society to be affected by the systems that put this statue in place.”
Across the street, Nancy Rushton, a neo-Confederate activist from South Carolina, mingled with members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Rushton was one of the organizers of an Heirs to the Confederacy Monument Support Rally. The Facebook event for the rally had called on supporters to appear at the location of the toppled Silent Sam monument at UNC-Chapel Hill throughout the morning, and then travel to Winston-Salem to lay flowers at the base of the Confederate monument here at 2 p.m. Instead, Rushton said she decided to skip Chapel Hill, and come directly to Winston-Salem to stand with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In Chapel Hill, about 35 antiracists gathered in the bitter cold to oppose the non-existent neo-Confederate rally.
Some of the antiracists across the street in Winston-Salem taunted Rushton about her plans to attend a neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan-affiliated rally at Stone Mountain in Georgia next month. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association denied a permit to the rally based on the organizers involvement with a previous event co-organized by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, Aryan Nations, Aryan Terror Brigade and the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The Facebook page for the event makes no attempt to hide its ideology, with explicit appeals to white supremacy and posts celebrating the late neo-Nazi activist Gary Yarborough and the British neo-Nazi band Screwdriver.
Rushton responded to a question about her plans to attend the event by saying, “I don’t agree with a lot of things that are said.”
“I’m here for my heritage,” she said. “It has nothing to do with hate. I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I have ancestors that are Confederate veterans. I’m here to honor them. They’re Confederate heroes.”
One of those standing with the neo-Confederates in Winston-Salem on Sunday was Gorrell Pierce, the former leader of the Federated Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Pierce’s Klan faction clashed with communist antiracists in the late 1970s. He said they screened Birth of a Nation at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem in 1978. And in February 1979, the Federated Knights organized a Klan memorabilia exhibit at the Forsyth County Library that was disrupted by the Revolutionary Communist Party. In July 1979, Pierce’s group clashed with the Worker Viewpoint Organization, a rival communist organization led by Nelson Johnson, in China Grove. Pierce opted not to bring his group to Greensboro for the fateful confrontation in November 1979 which resulted in the deaths of five antiracists.
The 68-year-old Pierce said on Sunday that he’s not a member of the Klan anymore, and doesn’t know if the Federated Knights of the Ku Klux Klan still exists. He thinks many of the former members are likely dead. He also said he doesn’t think highly of the current groups that call themselves Ku Klux Klan.
“They’re a bunch of idiots that say they are Klan,” Pierce said. “All they do is scream hate. The don’t scream pro-American. They’re just a bunch of hell-raisers.”
While arguing that people opposed to the statue should be more concerned about crime — he used the racially coded terms “gangbangers” and “drive-bys” — Pierce added, “If everybody would agree to move it to Salem Cemetery, that would be all right.”
That very solution has been proposed by the Mayor Allen Joines. The city and the owner of the ground on which the statue stands have both given the United Daughters of the Confederacy a Jan. 31 deadline to remove the statue.
Tensions rose around 2 p.m. as antiracists, who had previously kept to the sidewalk, moved into the street, and the two sides exchanged insults. The moderators of the Get Hate Out of Winston Facebook event had cautioned that supporters should not engage in civil disobedience, “cross the planter surrounding the statue,” or engage neo-Confederate activists.
Protesters chanted, “Money for jobs and education, not for statue preservation,” and, “Freedom must be defended, slavery never ended.”
“We live in a world that gives a monument to domestic terrorists who fought for enslavement, and leaves slaves in unmarked graves” said Destiny Blackwell, whose enslaved ancestors lived in southern Virginia. “That’s racism. We live in a world that builds itself for the glory of white people and for the oppression of black people. That is white supremacy.”
The Rev. Carlton Eversley, pastor of Dellabrook Presbyterian Church, noted that the keynote speech for the 1905 dedication of the Confederate statue in Winston-Salem was given by Alfred Waddell, a white supremacist who led a racist coup d’etat against multiracial democracy in Wilmington only seven years earlier.
“You can draw a straight line from this statue to Trump calling Mexicans ‘rapists’ and drug dealers,” Eversley said. “You can draw a straight line from this statue to separating children from their families.”
The Rev. Paul Robeson Ford, pastor of First Baptist Church on Highland Avenue, followed Eversley.
“As difficult as it is for my brothers and sisters — and they are my brothers and sisters — across the street to recognize and acknowledge this fact, there is a fact that needs to be understood,” he said. “The men who died fighting for the Confederate cause, died for the wrong cause. They died to keep black men in chains, black women at the service of white male slaveowners. They died to keep black children never believing they could be anything other than field n***ers or step-and-fetchit house negros.
“That statue is coming down,” Ford vowed. “By any non-violent means necessary that statue is not gonna stand there because that statue is an abomination.”