I have lived in Salisbury, NC for only two years. Last night, I held the third session of our current study on the podcast Seeing White. A group of parishioners, in response to a sermon I preached on race and the events of our country, decided to walk through this 14 part series to gain an understanding of what it means to be white in the United States of America.
Last night, as we discussed seeing ourselves as white, an infamous statue was being removed from the center of this small city I call home. The statue is called “Fame.” Here is how it described on ncpedia.org; “A bronze statue of the muse Fame supports a defeated and dying soldier who clutches his gun; Fame, a winged figure dressed in robes and wearing a laurel wreath atop her head, holds a second wreath high into the air as if to place it on the soldier. The statue stands on a pink granite pedestal. From the bottom of the pedestal to the top of the bronze grouping, the monument measures almost 23 feet.”
The inscription on the front side of the base says, “In memory of Rowan’s Confederate soldiers that their heroic deeds sublime self-sacrifice and undying devotion to duty and country may never be forgotten 1861-1865.”
As someone new to town, I learned of the rich history of this city. As being the last city before you hit the frontier and how Daniel Boone started many of his journeys from Salisbury. I learned about the Confederate Prison and the thousands of Union Soldiers who died within its walls. Now it is a National Cemetery, which mirrors the graves of Arlington National Cemetery.
This monument was unveiled on May 10, 1909, and was given by the Daughters of the Confederacy. According to a Facebook post by André Resner, Professor of Homiletics and Worship at Hood Seminary in Salisbury, this is one of the speeches given at the unveiling of this monument. “General Bennet H. Young of Kentucky, invoking divine intervention, said the South was “defeated, not because they were wrong or unfaithful in any aspect whatever, but because an overruling Providence decreed their downfall…” He further stated, “Of one thing my friends, we of the South are absolute sure… that… no misrepresentation of facts, no perversion of truth, no falsely written history tortured to meet partisan bias and prejudice, can deprive us before the bar of public justice… for the superb and magnificent contest they waged for a great principal. The sword does not always decide the right. We failed and yet we know we stood for truth.”
Over 50 years after the war as over, in the middle of the Jim Crow Era, this monument was erected. It had me curious, as an outsider, why? Why was it put up so long after the war? I found General Young’s words haunting and telling. “We failed and yet we know we stood for truth.” What truth was General Young talking about?
I cannot conceive of any truth about the Confederacy that, on one level or another, doesn’t include the right to own other human beings. There might be other factors but it doesn’t negate the reality that the Confederacy wanted to be able to continue with slavery.
Yes, young men from Rowan County died in the Civil War. They left behind mothers and fathers who mourn them. This was a sad reality of our country’s history. Out of all the Confederate Monuments, Fame didn’t bother me as much as lifting high a General or slaveholder on horseback.
However, for the large population of African Americans who call Salisbury home, this was still a nod to a time when they were seen as less than humans. This unveiling was only 3 years after three African Americans were dragged out of the local jail and lynched. Salisbury had the nickname of “Rope City” and there is a tree in town known as the “hanging tree.” Fame was a salute to fallen soldiers of the Confederacy, but it was also a reminder to all people of color, of where they belong.
Now “Fame” is removed from the spot it has sat for 111 years. It will go into a cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried, at some point in the future. In the middle square, at the intersection of Innes St. and Church St., there is bare ground. Ground which can possibly grow something new in this small city. Something that unifies instead of divides. Something that brings people of all skin colors together. Something that moves us forward and beyond racial hatred, lynching, and slavery.
For 111 years, the soil under “Fame” was held under the weight of a monument to people who believed they “stood for truth.” Now it is truly free to grow something new and for that, I give thanks today.