Editor’s Note: We invited elected officials from throughout Iredell County to share their views about the fate of the Confederate monument on the grounds of the Iredell County Government Center in Statesville. Elected officials in Mooresville, Statesville and Troutman, as well as those elected to countywide offices, were invited to participate. Eleven of the 31 officials responded. Here’s what they had to say:
Gene Houpe, Iredell County Commissioner
There is no easy answer to such a complex question. I have listened to many citizens, including those for and against removing this monument. Both sides are very articulate and passionate in their beliefs. I, personally, do not believe in removing any historical monument, statue, or memorial. One cannot erase history. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Has America always gotten it right? No. America is not perfect, but we are still the best force for good in the history of the world. Yes, we have made mistakes in our country’s history, but the important piece that all of us need to remember is the good we accomplish as a result of them. While speaking at the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, President George. W Bush said, “A great nation does not hide its history, it faces its flaws and corrects them.” This monument serves as a memorial to those Iredell County residents who fought in that war. These people gave their lives for a cause that we now acknowledge was a dark page in our nation’s history. Because we learned from our mistakes, we became a better, more united, and accepting people. That is what we should remember.
We must return to the principles and values that made this country great. I want us to work on an honest effort in this community to respect and honor one another and present positive role models for our kids. We must work together to improve the graduation rate and the quality of education for all students, create better job opportunities to relieve and address systemic poverty in our county, and we can always improve relations between law enforcement and our communities to build mutual trust and respect. We will accomplish this through respectful dialogue and conversations that include all points of view. What concerns me the most is not an old statue, but the hatred and divisiveness I see today on social media, in our communities, on our college campuses, in our workplaces, and in our political rhetoric across this nation. 1 Corinthians 12:14 says, “For the body is not one, but many.” This scripture tells us that we are to work together, to be more than just ourselves, but a team of people, living in harmony, so that we can do God’s will. United We Stand, Divided We Fall has always been a motto to unify and encourage collaboration. It’s time we do just that.
Ron Wyatt, Iredell County Register of Deeds
Leave the Statue. The United States was founded on the ideology of freedom, justice and liberty for all. Saturday was our Independence Day to celebrate living in a country free to come and go as you choose, free to go to any church of your choosing or not, free to marry any race or gender, free to claim whatever gender you wish even, leave the country and not return if you choose. I find it ironic that during an election year, certain groups of people want to take incidents and use them as platforms for something entirely different.
Supposedly, this country exists because Christopher Columbus discovered it. No, wait, that eventually was changed, too. He is, however, credited for opening pathways and making it easier for other Europeans to come. He landed here reportedly in 1492 on three ships. Those ships contained slaves. On that initial excursion, Columbus wrote in a journal and boasted of enslaving the inhabitants of islands (what we now call Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico). He later sent 500 slaves to Queen Isabella as a gift. She returned the “gift” with what some historians estimate to be somewhere between 500,000 and 3 million Tainos people who lost their lives due to Christopher Columbus and his brother’s rule of these islands within six years. How many places in America and our schools still credit this man with good deeds and hold him up as a respected person?
In 1775, the American Revolution began. A slave helped row George Washington across the Delaware. In that war over 5,000 slaves and free black men fought for our independence. All states granted freedom to those slaves that fought in the war. Some historians say the collapse of the British, with far superior numbers, was because Sir Henry Clinton made the war about slavery. Worldwide slavery was an accepted practice in most countries at that time.
The Civil War began on April 12, 1861. Many automatically assume it was over slavery. In fact, history shows there were numerous factors. Many history books say it was the improper taxation of the South and the expenditures of that tax money in mostly Northern states. The “Emancipation Proclamation” was presented in January of 1863 by Republican President Abraham Lincoln. Many thought it was to end slavery. It actually did not say that. It factually only applied to the states that had seceded. According to various historical documents, there were numerous enslaved and free blacks who enlisted for the confederacy. Those numbers were disparagingly different for the North of course. Jefferson Shields, being one of the more noted, was on the Confederate side. Today most people assume facts that simply were not true or accurate.
I do not condone slavery or any propaganda that promotes it. I do believe our ancestors did what they thought was right at the time, based off the facts they had. That does not mean I agree 160 years later that it was okay. An example I will refer to is Pepsi Co has decided to change the branding and logo of Aunt Jemima pancakes and syrup. Two families of the ladies that played the role have taken different views of that decision. Nancy Green’s family is completely disappointed they were not consulted. Yet, they were proud of her. She rose out of slavery to become a successful woman who furthered civil rights on a bigger stage. Anna Short Harrington’s family member sued for $2 billion and a share of profits, claiming she helped to develop the product. Larnell Evans stated: “They are trying to erase my family’s history. That was her job.” It was after slavery. But many have an opinion of how these women were abused and the use of their image has been deemed a terrible thing.
Independence Day weekend is a time to also reflect. More importantly, instead of finding issue and fault, let’s find the great things that unite us and make us one nation under God, indivisible with liberties and justice for all! I do not agree with a lot in our history; obviously people’s version of it is way wrong at times. It also is digested very differently. I do not think removal of that one statue will make any person’s quality of life one bit better. Not one child will be able to read better. Not one adult will be able to get a better job. I do not think that statue promotes or accepts slavery or Jim Crow laws. Persons using that logic could then very well say one political party, as history clearly shows, did more damage than any statue. That party even held a 75-day filibuster to keep the Civil Rights Act from passing in 1964. So, if we get rid of everything that remotely offends and reminds us of things people did 200 years ago, 100 years ago, or 20 years ago that is appalling to us now, where does it stop?
I do not like things that people are doing now that are prejudicial, bigoted and even racist. Best example: some musicians using discriminatory and racist words that are not okay for all races to say and to use. A statue does nothing except exist. Music is influencing a lot more people than any statue in this country. I guarantee you that we can go to any middle school and ask students to describe this statue and very few will know it exits! But most of those students can spew the racist and sexist lyrics of music that is readily available to them. Now which issue do we really need to address if certain groups are truly wanting to change things they claim are constant reminders of slavery or are offensive?
In closing my point is simple: If you want to point fingers at objects or things as being the reason, know what you are really saying. We all can create issues. What happened 160 years ago or even 50 years ago is not what is happening in our communities today in America. That does not mean those issues are erased. It means we need to pay attention and continue improving together. Quit finding words and issues to cause divide. Instead let’s unify and work together.
Costi Kutteh, Statesville Mayor
Remove it to a private location, determined by county commissioners, in collaboration with NAACP and Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Sarah Kirkman, District Attorney
Although there is no current litigation involving the statue, in keeping with the Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor as outlined in the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, it would be improper to comment on this issue. A prosecutor’s job is that of a “minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate” (North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, Comment to Rule 3.8). As such, a prosecutor must make every effort to refrain from making extrajudicial comments that would have “a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.” (North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.6)
Sally Williams, Troutman Town Council member
Throughout history, the United States has overcome many challenges in which they overcame with victory including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, Mexican- American War, World War I and II, etc. The history of our country should always be celebrated and looked upon to ensure that the future of America continues to grow and be stronger than ever. However, there are times in history that can hinder a country if moving forward is the goal. One example is the Civil War. This time in our history represents division among ourselves, division among our government, division upon the race of people, division upon beliefs, but overall, the division of our country. Why would we want to celebrate this time in history as we have many other times in history that reflect a more united America? As this is not a time of remembrance, many of the Confederate statues were put into place as an intimidation factor for African Americans and to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction.
As we move forward as a country to become stronger and more united, this part in history should not be celebrated as we killed our own people on our own soil. With that being said, the Confederate memorial should be removed to help our country heal and move forward for positive change. Confederate nor Union memorials should not be celebrated as they can be replaced with other memorials that provide a more uplifting remembrance of what we have been through as a country, what we have overcome and can continue to overcome. The removal of the monument will not erase our history but rather call attention to or even alter the previous interpretation of history.
Darren Campbell, Iredell County Sheriff
In my duty as your elected sheriff, I am not tasked with the decision of retaining or removing the statue located on the grounds of the Iredell County Government Center. I am tasked, however, with the protection of the statue, and will continue to protect the property of the citizens until such a decision has been reached.
Paul Bryant, Troutman Town Council member
Today, there is a state statute in effect that prohibits removal of monuments from public property without prior approval from the N.C. General Assembly. Gov. Cooper has called for the state legislature to repeal this law. Until such time as the state “object of remembrance” statute is repealed the act of removal will be illegal. Let the legislature do its job. In the meantime, citizens should continue to share their opinion(s) with all local, county and state elected officials. Our path to consensus regarding disposition of this type of public display should be inclusive.
Ken Robertson, Iredell County Commissioner
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” (George Orwell, “1984”)
I do not support tearing down any memorial to the young men (and women) who died in any war.
In 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and intentionally killed thousands of Americans. Japan has memorials to their fallen servicemen. We don’t demand the Japanese purge all pre-1945 history from their nation in order to be peaceful friends today. As a country, do we assume that every Japanese is really a closet fan of Hirohito and wishes death and destruction on America? No, that is a ridiculous notion. That war occurred 75 years ago. Its’ over. A Toyota Camry sits in my driveway. Japan is a friend, not an enemy.
Germany does have memorials to their fallen servicemen and sailors. I have seen memorials to their German dead from both WWI and WWII. In 2003 the Town of Mooresville selected Hockenheim, Germany, to be a sister city. Does this mean the citizens of Mooresville somehow endorse the policies of the Holocaust from 75 years ago? No, what an absurd notion. After WWII the United States rebuilt Germany as part of the Marshall Plan. Today Germany is a friend, not an enemy.
Some of my fellow soldiers have visited Viet Nam to walk the areas where they personally fought 55 years ago. They all comment on how well they were received by the Vietnamese people. Most Vietnamese are curious, but cautious, due to the authoritarian communist government that is always watching. Our veterans are now welcomed to their country. That friendship has been reciprocated. In fact, there is a very good chance the wooden furniture you are sitting on today, was manufactured in Viet Nam, then imported into the U.S. at the expense of furniture manufacturing jobs in our own county. Let’s not forget, Viet Nam also is a country who tortured American POWs. Both countries have learned to let the past be part of our history, and not let what happened then, now consume and define our future. Even though they fought against us, we have not demanded they tear down all the monuments to their fallen as a precondition of peaceful co-existence today.
So why must we now reach back 155 years in order to slander anyone over a monument recognizing the sacrifice of the young men, often draftees, from this county? We have already proven American citizens can forgive and co-exist with people who sought to kill us in our own lifetimes. Americans have forgiven former enemies, have formed friendships, and now enjoy productive relationships to build better futures.
The Iredell County Board of Commissioners has actively sought to recruit high-paying industries to improve the employment opportunities and incomes for all county residents. We have increased education funding to give every single child in the county the opportunity to better prepare themselves to take advantage of those employment opportunities. We want to build for the future, not tear down to give them false sense of accomplishment.
If you really want to improve the future for any child, of any sex, of any color, of any religion, we have schools loaded with children who desperately need tutoring in reading, writing, and mathematics. If you don’t have the time, donate money for books the children can own and take home to read.
There are so many productive ways any citizen can be engaged to help anybody they want to help, and nobody has to tear down anything to do it.
Paul Henkel, Troutman Town Council member
I am sorry but I am unable to answer your question directly as you have presented it. I have complete confidence in our Iredell County commissioners to represent the citizens of Iredell County very well in seeking to resolve this issue in a manner that is in the best interest of our county and its citizens. This is a matter that involves county property and is the sole jurisdiction and responsibility of our county commissioners. As such, I feel that this issue is for the commissioners to decide without input from elected officials who are not part of this board and have no jurisdiction in this matter.
I am content to let our commissioners do their job without me, as an elected official, trying to second guess them.
William Morgan, Statesville City Council member
I believe the issues we face and the conversations that need to be had transcend any one statue. We need meaningful dialogue in order to address all concerns. I will defer to my colleagues on the county commission to make the decision as to the fate of the monument as it is on their property; however, I will say that I would much rather see it moved than be destroyed if it were to be unlawfully toppled.
James B. Mallory III, chairman, Iredell County Board of Commissioners
After hearing from quite a number of Iredell County citizens over the past few weeks, it is clear that there is no consensus on any action to take regarding the Confederate memorial. What is clear is that most people have passionate and clearly articulated views on what the memorial means to them. Despite differing opinions, however, there is considerable interest in having frank person-to-person discussions concerning why they feel as they do, and a willingness to listen and try to understand other perspectives.
Additionally, most have not considered anything other than the binary choice of keeping or removing the memorial when there are other options available. The memorial itself represents an acknowledgement of fallen soldiers who do not have identifiable gravesites and its inscriptions reflect sentiments of a time between 1865 and 1905 by loved ones trying to make sense of their personal loss. The memorial, however, represents only one perspective of our shared history. It does not represent African-American nor Union perspectives nor the progress over the last 115 years toward a more perfect union which, under the Stars and Stripes, every armed conflict has been fought to preserve over the last 155 years. Context and the whole story is important to inform future generations – to understand where we are going, you have to know where you have been. History informs the present, but it does not control our future.
There is also a recognition by most that there are substantive issues of discrimination and poverty that still permeate our culture which, if not by design, then by effect, limit the ability of many of our citizens to achieve their highest and best potential and unduly burden them in the process. We must address these substantive issues and conditions to eliminate the conditions and attitudes that separate and limit us from achieving that more perfect union. Symbolic acts should represent substantive accomplishments. I am committed to work with all the stakeholders in our communities to begin a substantive process and action to address these issues and, in the process, work to develop a consensus on how to best symbolically represent our shared journey, aspirations and accomplishments.