Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, I took the monuments around the state capitol for granted. The first Confederate soldier killed in the Civil War, Henry Lawson Wyatt, has leaned into the wind on those grounds for 100 years. Atop a pedestal inscribed, ‘To North Carolina women of the Confederacy’, a mother in billowing skirts reads to her young boy, his hand on his scabbard. Only in adulthood have I done a double take. I was raised in a slightly weird place.
In an era of fungible Walmarts, regional distinction in the US is hard to come by, and I treasure Raleigh’s funk factor. Yet I didn’t grow up around folks who wished the South had won the Civil War and wanted to bring back slavery. For much of my lifetime (OK, NC isn’t in a salutary political place in Trump World), cities like Raleigh have had better race relations than many Northern ones.
Up against the movement to cleanse the American South of Civil War tributes, aesthetic attachment to regional oddity constitutes a weak argument. I’ll make it anyway. These sculptures are curious, interesting, specific to one part of the country and often better crafted than anything that would replace them. Some are defiant; many others have a mournful cast. They are sobering reminders of a dreadful juncture in American history, and you have to remember a war even to regret it. Junking all these memorials off in some cluttered museum would result in an ineffable atmospheric loss for my complicated home town.
Yet post-Charlottesville, any reflective discussion of the fate of these relics is regarded overnight as over. Mysteriously, after one unfortunate woman was murdered by a single right-wing malefactor with a driving licence, it’s a given that every Confederate monument must come down.