The city of Winston- Salem is changing, and it’s starting at the corner of 4th Street and Liberty Street. Construction workers have been working at the site of a demolition that will grow to be a Hotel Indigo, which is a new age of boutique hotels. The old county courthouse. which changed ownership in 2014, is now a show-stopping apartment building. However, a historical monument adds a bit of cloudiness to the sunshine of fresh business.
Erected in 1905, the Confederate Soldiers Monument has become a clashing center between cultural conflict, memories, and the foundation on which North Carolina stands. The 30-foot-tall one-armed soldier, gazes down at the streets beneath its pedestal in modern-day Winston-Salem with the script: “SLEEPING, BUT GLORIOUS / DEAD IN FAME’S PORTAL / DEAD BUT VICTORIOUS / DEAD BUT IMMORTAL / THEY GAVE US GREAT GLORY /WHAT MORE COULD THEY GIVE? / THEY LEFT US A STORY, / A STORY TO LIVE!”
Today, the word, “glorious,” used to define the southern Confederacy holds on to a rough time in North Carolina’s past by doing what some would consider to be casually sweeping racism and slavery under the rug. What’s under the rug wan’t invisible to the black residents living in the ‘Jim Crow’ era when the statue was originally built.
“It was erected to terrorize blacks, our mothers and I refuse for the statue to remain, to be etched in the memory of our daughters in future generations,” said Crystal Rook, a Winston-Salem resident at a city council meeting regarding the statue. “Why would the city of Winston-Salem keep this statue, a symbol of hate, systemic racism and a reason to terrorize the Black community anywhere? Especially in a district that prides itself on innovation?”
Mayor Allen Joines agrees with Rook. At the beginning of the year, during a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, Joines gave the organization overseeing the statue, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), a deadline of Jan. 31 to move the statue.
“Back in 2001 when I was first elected, it wasn’t really on my radar. But there has been a lot of conversation about it in the years since,” said Joines. “We have tried to have racial healing in our city, and I really think this is a part of that.”
For years, talk about moving the statue has been circulating throughout the city, but the UDC refused to take relocation into consideration. Considering recent vandalism to the statue, Joines believes that leaving the statue in its current place will lead to more dangerous conflicts between competing groups such as “Heirs to the Confederacy,” and “Get Hate Out of Winston-Salem”.
A Special education teacher in Winston-Salem, Miranda Jones, is a part of the “Get Hate Out of Winston-Salem” movement and says that the mayor giving the UDC a deadline to remove the statue is working towards the goal, but the task isn’t complete until the statue is removed. She’s glad that the city is being updated but only two minutes from the statue is east Winston, where high poverty rates and displacement is no stranger.
“The statue doesn’t just stand for the oppression of my enslaved ancestors, it’s also a monument to the fact that white supremacy and white privilege is alive and well today. The state represents that, too,” said Jones, who fears that the UDC and state lawmakers will work to find a loophole in the mayor’s request.
Because the statue stands on private property, it is not covered by the 2015 state law that allowed for similar statues to remain in place in Downtown Raleigh and UNC- Chapel Hill. Joines has produced the solution of moving the statue in question to Salem Cemetery, where 36 graves of confederate soldiers are. However, this suggestion was rejected by the UDC.
“The heavy-handed tactics of the city and its threat of legal action against us are as shocking as they are dishonorable,” said the UDC in a recent press release. “When so many real problems are facing Winston-Salem and its citizens, city officials would rather engage in a cheap political stunt and distraction. We wish for the memorial to remain in its place, where it has stood since it was dedicated in 1905 and will do everything in our power to see that it continues to remain.”
Lawyer Scott Horn, of the Winston Courthouse LLC, has joined the fight to remove the statue. The company sees the statue as a liability. In a letter addressed to the UDC, Horn wrote ““[I]n order to protect the residents of the property, the owner cannot allow the statue to remain on the property.”
After a fatal conflict over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, a fire under Winston-Salem’s personal conflict was lit. Less than seven days after Charlottesville, a Confederate statue outside of Durham County Courthouse was toppled. A country-wide movement of removing statues glorying the confederacy was started. The only guidelines were removing them legally when possible, though occasionally some have been brought down by force. Last August, Duke University voluntarily took down a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general.
A confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill named “Silent Sam” did not follow the same path. Silent Sam has been protested over for 50 years by students, staff and faculty. The administration of the school insists that they are obligated by state law to protect the statue. Near the end of August, protesters took matters into their own hands and toppled the statue. It was put back up, but has since been moved.
Both Silent Sam and the Confederate statue in Winston-Salem is overseen by the UDC. UDC’s first group meeting was during the early 1890s. The group’s sole purpose was to revamp the reputation of their Confederate Ancestors and bring back the idea of finding the “Lost Cause” glorified within the Confederacy and slavery.
Dr. Karen Cox, a professor at UNC Charlotte and author of “Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture” told NC Policy Watch that she agrees with the keeping the statues in their original places.
“They were the driving force behind monuments from the time they were organized in 1894. Their group grew so rapidly—within a year they had 30 chapters and it just kept exponentially growing. Within 10 years they went from 30 to 30,000—and 100,000 members by [World War I],” said Cox.
In 2019, the member count of the group has diminished greatly, but UDC still have chapters in 19 states. In North Carolina alone, 50 active chapters have been recorded with the state headquarters housed in Raleigh.
In 1913, the group worked with UNC leaders to build the Silent Sam statue to honor students who died for the “Confederate Cause.” In 1926, the UDC erected a monument dedicated to the Ku Klux Klan in Concord, North Carolina. “
The group’s work was about crafting a narrative—really a sort of mythology—of a peaceful and honorable Confederate past,” said Cox. “They are focused on being sure history is written in a pro-Confederate way. If you went to public schools, you would read about Confederate heroes in your textbook. They would make sure libraries carried books that ‘told the truth’ as they would say. That’s why the subtitle of my book is about confederate culture, the memory of the confederacy.”
Mayor Joines sees no other solution that, to take the issue to court due to a lack of cooperation from the UDC. The city will ask for a court order to have the statue removed.
“Unless another option presents itself, we’ll seek a court order to carry this out,” said Joines. “I believe it’s time now to deal with this particular issue.”
“I guess I can see both sides of it. If it was in my yard, it would stay up. But it’s not in my yard,” said Randall McHone, a construction worker working on the site of the future Hotel Indigo. “If I was Black and I lived in that apartment building and I looked out and saw this statue and thought about my ancestors, who were slaves…that would hurt me too.”