Letters to the Editor: Monuments, bought by women's groups, honor the dead


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Monuments erected in the South after the Civil War were bought almost exclusively by women's groups and for the expressed purpose of honoring their dead. Their inscriptions reflect this and do not include racial statements. They state variations of "to our Confederate dead," etc. These monuments have been widely cataloged and documented. Almost every Confederate state has published books on the subject and almost every state archive has an inventory. I encourage everyone to read them to appreciate the true meaning of these memorials. One excellent and highly recommended publication for North Carolina is Douglas J. Butler's award-winning “North Carolina Confederate Monuments: An Illustrated History.”

The recent attempt to connect the erection of Confederate monuments during the "Jim Crow" era with a racist agenda fails to understand that the women's groups who are largely responsible for memorials did not organize until the 1890s. The United Daughters of the Confederacy was organized in 1894. Also, memorializing the Confederate dead, and in some cases, even giving the Confederate dead a decent burial, was often not allowed during the years of Federal military occupation. In fact, grieving women and children in Raleigh, who wanted to gather and walk to the local cemetery to place wreaths and flowers on the graves of their deceased loved ones were threatened with being shot on sight if they did so. [1867; Butler, p. 14.] These issues, plus the difficulties raising money for memorials in a war-torn and impoverished South, were barriers to erecting monuments in the immediate post-war years. With 40,000 brothers, fathers, husbands and sons dead in North Carolina, personal grief pervaded the state and left a lasting legacy.

As such, these monuments are still important to many. They are memorials to ancestors who were willing to give their all — ancestors who were human, from different circumstances, with varied beliefs, and, yes, sometimes even of different races. Attempting to single out a group and tear down its history hurts us all; there can never be understanding and equality as long as we judge and label the people of the present and the past in this way. As our Rocky Mount monument was re-dedicated in 1977 to honor all veterans, our monument is for all. I would encourage everyone to read the real history of the American South in primary documents, objectively and in context, and without bias and stereotyping. Read and preserve all the history and all the stories of all the people, not just some of the history and stories of some of the people.