Strolling through downtown Graham, citizens and visitors are greeted by local businesses and restaurants, colorful murals, and the historic Alamance County Courthouse, home to one of 42 landmarks confederates who stand in the state of North Carolina.
The North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities tracks monuments across the state, many of which were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1900s. According to NC CRED data, the Graham Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the Alamance County Courthouse Confederate Monument and was dedicated in 1914.
Since being placed in downtown Graham, the monument has been a magnet for protests, marches, demonstrations and conversations, including the March to the Polls event which ended with marchers sprayed with pepper spray and multiple arrests.
For some, the statue may be a relic. But for Kristie Puckett Williams, the monument is a symbol of ingrained racism in the community it inhabits.
“Those of courthouses are particularly egregious because courthouses are meant to be the halls of justice. Justice is supposed to be blind. He’s not supposed to care about race or money or any of those things,” Puckett Williams said. “But when you have a racist Confederate monument right outside your courthouse, then what does that say to black and brown defendants about the type and amount of justice they will receive in that building?”
But despite outcry from communities across the state that have similar statues or symbols, many monuments like Graham’s still stand — not for the public, but rather because state law allows them to remain. .
Puckett Williams, who is deputy director of engagement and mobilization and director of the statewide campaign for Smart Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said she remembered a time before Graham’s monument was 8 feet tall. iron fence around him, when he was under 24-hour surveillance by the Alamance County Sheriff‘s Department in 2020. For her, Graham’s monument represents “the tone and tenor” of law enforcement. law in this county.
Thirty-five symbols of the Confederacy have been removed from North Carolina, according to data obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center. But 173 symbols remain statewide. North Carolina is among the states with the most Confederate symbols, with Georgia topping the list with 281 Confederate symbols, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Graham’s monument is one of the most forward-looking symbols of the Confederacy, but the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Memorial Civil Rights Center in Montgomery, Alabama, Tafeni English, said the symbols of the Confederation come in many forms. From streets named after Confederate generals to school buildings and pedestals glorifying Confederate history, the SPLC has documented more than 2,000 Confederate memorials that stand publicly in the United States.
“Confederate symbols are living symbols of white supremacy because we know they were actually strategically placed in public spaces across the United States, primarily to intimidate African Americans during the height of the civil rights movement. “, said English.
The Daughters of the Confederacy is the nonprofit group that has sponsored many Confederate symbols tracked by the ACLU of North Carolina. The purpose of the organization lies in “the purpose of honoring the memory of its Confederate ancestors”, according to the organization’s goals.
“Join us in speaking out against hate groups and affirming that Confederate statues and memorials are part of our shared American history and must remain in place,” General Chair Linda Edwards said in a statement posted on the website. organization.
But the history that Edwards and others protect, in English, ignores the history of slavery and the Jim Crow era.
“People challenged Jim Crow racial segregation and the history behind Confederate symbols having been used by white supremacist organizations, and they were always used as tools of racial terror,” English said. “Again, that says a lot about wanting them to stay in these public spaces.”
However, in his role as staff advocate for justice systems reform at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Marcus Pollard said not everyone he talks to makes the connection between white supremacy and the Confederacy.
“When you talk to a person, depending on the history they’ve been taught, it shapes what they think of the Confederacy, what they think of statues, and what they think of the flag,” said Pollard. “That’s why these monuments are still allowed, because we can’t decide what really happened during this time.”
While Puckett Williams and other organizers have advocated for the removal of the statue as well as others like it across the state, there are many hurdles people must overcome before the actual removal takes place, Puckett Williams said.
In the state of North Carolina, monuments like the one erected at Graham are protected by state law. There are limits to the removal of monuments: “an object of memory” is not permitted to be permanently removed from its location, unless it is moved to a site “of significant, similar honour, visibility, availability and access” to where he was. previously. However, Chapter 100 of the NC General Statute states that the new location cannot be a museum, cemetery or mausoleum if the monument was not originally located in any of these locations.
“Some states have passed laws making it very difficult to remove them, even to the point of imposing significant fines if they are moved or destroyed, or things of that nature,” English said. “Their very existence really reminds us of how easily white supremacy can erode democracy and help erode democracy.”
While these monuments can be temporarily moved, they must return to their original location within 90 days, by law. To remove, move, or alter any monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State of North Carolina in any way outside the limits set forth in law, there must be the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.
The three pundits compared the legality of Confederate symbols to the illegality of Nazi symbolism in Germany: a stark reminder to Pollard of the varied opinions when it comes to American history.
“It’s illegal to have a Nazi flag. It’s against the law to teach Nazi doctrine, and it’s against the law to speak out against the Holocaust and say the Holocaust was fake or made up – It’s illegal to be an open Holocaust denier. Holocaust. That’s how seriously they took this event,” Pollard said. “Until our country takes seriously the resolution of the problems in the South with the Confederacy, we will not move forward.”
Often the argument for removing one of the monuments centers on its owner and, as such, the responsibility for its removal. For Puckett Williams, this is at the heart of the problem that communities face when advocating for the destruction of monuments.
“We will never get to where we need to be as a country as long as we are more concerned with marble and granite rocks than we are real people,” Puckett Williams said.
As head of the grassroots statewide campaign for Smart Justice, Pucket Williams said she wakes up every day to continue advocating for the removal of these statues. Although the fight was long, Pucket Williams said she was not giving up hope.
“I can imagine a time when these monuments won’t be legal,” Puckett Williams said. “We need to move away from what is legal and back to what is ethical, moral, principled. Because legal is often the lowest bar in this country for right or wrong.