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Charlotte Talks: Is Removing Confederate Symbols 'Correcting History' Or 'Changing' It?

Davie Hinshaw / The Charlotte Observer

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White supremacist marches have renewed the conversation about what should happen to symbols of the Confederacy.  What do these monuments and markers represent, and what would their removal mean? Mike Collins talks with a Pulitzer Prize-nominated Civil War historian and hears from both sides of the issue.

Two years ago, as South Carolina debated the fate of the Confederate flag outside the Statehouse, this program wondered if it would be the “last shot fired by the Confederacy.”

Clearly, the events of Charlottesville have shown plenty of ammunition remains in the conversation about the place of Confederate relics in the 21st Century South.

Credit David A. Graham / The Atlantic
A Confederate statue outside the Durham County courthouse was toppled by protesters soon after the Charlottesville violence.

Durham has become an epicenter of that conversation in North Carolina. Two days after the Charlottesville incident, a monument to Confederate veterans was toppled by protestors. Then a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee in Duke University’s chapel was vandalized and, ultimately, removed.

Governor Cooper wants Confederate monuments taken off state property, saying “a war against the United States of America in defense of slavery” “cannot (be) glorified.”

It’s estimated that North Carolina has more than 230 Civil War statues, markers and monuments, including ten in Mecklenburg County. One such monument in Cornelius was vandalized shortly after the Charlottesville violence.

President Trump, in his controversial comments last week on Charlottesville, accused those seeking the removal of Confederate symbols of "changing history... changing culture." But New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landreiu, who was behind a successful effort to remove monuments in his city, said it was "correcting history."

What is the story behind these mementos? Were they meant to honor those who fought, or the ideology that divided a nation? Would history be rewritten if they were no longer in public sight, as defenders of the monuments claim?


David A. Graham, The Atlantic, staff writer based in Durham (@GrahamDavidA)

Dr. David Goldfield, UNC Charlotte, Robert Lee Baily Professor of History; Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, works include America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation 

Malcolm Graham, former Mecklenburg County state senator; brother of Charleston church shooting victim Cynthia Hurd (@SenatorMGraham)

Bill Starnes, camp commander, Sons of Confederate Veterans


"These statues were a reflection of education and white supremacists. They were statements of the South’s defiance of federal authority.” - Dr. David Goldfield
“These statues were erected by family members to honor the men who fought. They weren’t fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, they wanted to be consented to govern." - Bill Starnes
“We don’t celebrate people who finish second.” - Malcolm Graham

Putting monuments in context

“Erect another statue of slaves or slave families with chains at their feet standing next to the Confederate statue. The actions of one resulted in the freedom of another. These statues only represent a part of Southern history and not a very accurate one.” - Goldfield
“To understand these monuments you have to understand what led to the war, its causes and how it was prosecuted, and the fact that Northern troops killed nearly 70,000 civilians. Black, white, free and enslaved. At the time of those monuments, the wounds from this were still present.” - Starnes


Where are North Carolina's Confederate monuments? (The Charlotte Observer)

Confederate monuments are coming down across the United States (The New York Times)