Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts tagged as “Confederate statue”

Balancing facts and feelings in the discussion of Confederate monuments

Deondra Rose, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, is accustomed to letting facts drive the discussion of policy. But as a member of the Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments, she realized that feelings were important, too.

During a Sanford lunch event to discuss the committee on Friday, Rose praised the group’s emphasis on opens discussions and the diverse backgrounds of people involved. There were two types of meetings: official ones with guest speakers and wide-open discussions.

The official meetings included speakers with expertise on aspects of Confederate monuments. Many were academics whose research focused on the Confederacy, monuments and the legacy of the Civil War.  

Deondra Rose

Rose felt the small group discussions were especially helpful. The committee asked participants to answer three questions about the values the government should highlight, the people who should be publicly celebrated and the recommendations participants had for the committee.

“The best part of this process was to sit around these tables and hear citizens grapple with these questions,” said Rose, a political scientist who recently published the book “Citizens By Degree: Higher Education Policy and the Changing Gender Dynamics of American Citizenship.”

At the meetings, Rose found her academic approach, which focuses on facts over feelings, was not the best way to approach delicate and emotion-filled topics.

“One of the things I got into trouble within this process is that I tend to approach things with facts. I am not someone who typically deals well with emotions,” she said, adding that “I realized that this is more personal to people and it is hitting them in a place of emotion. I had to really learn to step back and learn how to be quiet.”

She quickly learned that people felt like statues were viewed very deeply by people, often because they honored ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War.

“This isn’t just Confederate Statues to people. ‘This is my great-great-great grandfather’ and so by saying this statue represents X, Y and Z people take that to mean you’re saying my great-great-great grandfather represented X, Y and Z,” said Rose.

She applauded the diversity of the committee, from academics to lawyers to a Confederate reenactor.

“It was a really diverse group in terms of age, in terms of gender, in terms of race and ethnicity, in terms of where we lived in Durham County and how long we’ve lived here,” said Rose.

Rose noted that the committee became fiercely protective of each other through the process. They defended each other even when they had vastly different opinions.

This became particularly important when County Commissioners Vice Chair James Hill criticized the committee’s recommendation to move the statue base with additions to honor the enslaved, union soldiers and women and children to one of two publicly owned cemeteries, one of which is historically black. Hill compared the movement of this new monument to a historically black cemetery to placing an SS statue in a Jewish cemetery.

The co-chairs responded with an op-ed emphasizing that the potential new statue would have additions honoring the enslaved and others and emphasizing the other recommendations the committee had.

Other recommendations include publicly honoring other members of Durham’s history like Pauli Murray, C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater, tobacco workers, and more. The committee also recommended including the crumpled statue in an educational display inside the courthouse.

Despite the vast array of opinions, the committee found a shared commitment to recognizing history. It was who and how we remember our past that people disagreed about.

“Across the board, people said they wanted to memorialize history,” Rose said. “There was a shared disagreement with us somehow paving over history or failing to acknowledge even our painful past.”

At meeting on monuments, ‘passionate conversation…but keep it civil’

At the Rougemont Ruritan Club on the outskirts of northern Durham County, about forty people gathered in a small, warm cabin to talk about race and statues.

It was the sixth meeting of the Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials, this time in a location far from the sterile government buildings of downtown Durham.

The committee, which completed its membership in May of this year, has been holding a series of meetings in order to engage the community in a meaningful discussion about the Confederate statue that was toppled outside the old courthouse in August 2017 and how to deal with the other memorials around the city and county.

“We remind you that this meeting is not about the rights or wrongs of how the statue came down,” committee co-chair Charmaine McKissick-Melton told the crowd. “We expect passionate conversation but ask that you also keep it civil.”

Since this meeting did not take place in the city council chambers, attendees were split into four groups, and a volunteer facilitator guided each group through a series of three questions.

At the Rougemont Ruritan Club, a group of meeting attendees discuss the future of the toppled confederate monument.

The first one read, “What community values should be represented, recognized, and celebrated in our public memorials, markers, and monuments?”

Almost immediately, one group erupted into a debate about the legality of toppling down the statue, with several people insisting that “lawlessness” was rampant. The facilitators patiently reminded the group of the activity at hand, and, after some discord, managed to get everyone to participate.

Robin Kirk, the other committee co-chair, explained to The 9th Street Journal that discussion-style meetings are always more boisterous than public forums because they require attendees to collaborate and listen closely to each other’s points of view.

“People arrive with lots of anger and they just want to stand and say what they want, but in this type of meeting you have to actually listen to other points of view, and people don’t like it,” she said. “The truth is, it barely works. But then you have some really great moments.”

The second discussion question seemed to appeal more to attendees: “What memorials or historic markers do you think are missing from our community? What stories, people, places, or events could be publicly recognized?”

In one group, people agreed that laborers, particularly tobacco workers, were underrepresented in monuments and markers that recount the region’s history. One of the table’s facilitators, Eric Marsh, mentioned how people used to be able to smell tobacco in Durham’s air, and many nodded in what was a rare moment of agreement.

“It’s important to let people just get it all out, even if they have to agree to disagree,” Marsh told the Journal. “And the media will have you thinking it’s blacks against whites, but plenty of white people stand up for minorities.” He nodded towards an elderly white gentleman who’d spoken up passionately for minority groups’ rights earlier in the conversation.

“It’s not blacks against whites, its Durhamites against Durhamites,” he said.

In an effort to hear from as many of those Durhamites as possible, committee meetings have been held all over different parts of the city. The next meeting on Sept. 13 will take place at the American Underground in order to reach a younger demographic.

In addition to engaging the community in discussion, the committee has been charged with “making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners regarding disposition of the toppled Confederate statue.” As such, the last discussion question was “Considering that there are legal constraints on altering any existing objects of public remembrance, what do you think could be done with the existing statue and monument that reflects our shared values?”

A large group wanted to restore the statue to its original state. Some said to leave it where it was now, in a warehouse undisclosed to the public.

One woman suggested putting it in a museum, while an even more creative attendee suggested to “decide on a new monument and melt the old one in order to make it.” Someone made a comment about how the monument had been erected to celebrate white supremacy, and another promptly called him a liar and a communist.