‘Civil War Today’ event in Pittsboro focuses on Confederacy, monuments in modern context

Posted 2/21/20

PITTSBORO — Saturday’s “The Civil War Today” program presented a stark contrast in ideologies mere feet from each other.

More than a dozen people waving Confederate flags and “Trump …

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‘Civil War Today’ event in Pittsboro focuses on Confederacy, monuments in modern context

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PITTSBORO — Saturday’s “The Civil War Today” program presented a stark contrast in ideologies mere feet from each other.

More than a dozen people waving Confederate flags and “Trump 2020” stickers and banners posted themselves outside the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center. On the inside, more than 200 people attended a panel discussion — billed as “A House Divided” — on the place of the Confederacy in history and in the 21st century, particularly in North Carolina.

Co-hosted by Chatham for All and AbundanceNC, “The Civil War Today” featured three UNC-Chapel Hill professors who spoke on historical context of Civil War, the Confederacy and Confederate monuments in an attempt, according to the panel’s moderator, share the whole truth about a past that included slavery.

“We’re all caught up in that,” said Tracy Hanner, the chairman of the Department of Animal Sciences at NC A&T State University. “Will you tell your daughter, your children that truth about the past? You should tell your children the truth — not distort that truth, but tell them the whole truth.”

The first to present was Joseph T. Glatthaar, an adjunct professor of the Curriculum in Peace, War and Defense. He argued that, based on multiple resolutions of secession from the North, the Confederacy was really based on protecting slavery and fighting the Civil War was for protecting slavery.

Mississippi’s resolution: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.” Georgia’s argued that the state seceded due to “numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave holding confederate states.” Texas proclaimed in its resolution that Africans were subservient to whites, and that state was “a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”

Glatthar also spoke of the 37.2 percent of soldiers in the Army of Northern Virginia, the largest Confederate army, who owned slaves or lived with parents who owned slaves.

“These soldiers have a tremendous attachment to the institution of slavery,” he said. “They also don’t necessarily have to own slaves to be attached to the institution. Slavery is at the heart of the war.”

Next, Assistant Professor of American History William Sturkey spoke about the process of Reconstruction and how some Southerners fought to preserve the status quo.

“Many Southerners were quite happy with the presence of black people,” he said. “The problem was all the rights these black people now had.”

Sturkey specifically referenced Black Codes, the predecessor to Jim Crow laws, and the role of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in preserving the so-called “Lost Cause” narrative — what Sturkey described as “a broader educational mission...to reshape the reasons behind the war, promote the morality behind slavery and promote the Ku Klux Klan.” He also referenced the Winnie Davis Chapter of the UDC, which erected the Confederate monument that formerly stood in downtown Pittsboro, and the people who spoke on the day of its erection in 1907.

“This entire group has one thing in common as they stand there in 1907 as they honor the Confederacy,” he said. “All of the leaders who led the effort to erect the monument came from a wealthy slave-owning family.”

Another tidbit, from a newspaper account Sturkey shared: the monument’s face was covered with black shoe polish within 10 days of the dedication.

Later in the discussion, Sturkey spoke about the protestors standing outside and how they symbolized the Lost Cause narrative.

“The architects of that narrative, it’s quite amazing to me how effective they are in enforcing that we are simply torn apart in that way,” he said. “We’re still torn apart by this American cancer known as race.”

The third panelist, W. Fitzhugh Brundage, the William Umsted Distinguished Professor in UNC’s Department of History, presented about Confederate monuments and public spaces. He said white Southerners pushed to establish monuments in response to the North’s objects of remembrance. As Southern towns became more urbanized and centralized, public spaces became places for these Confederate monuments. Additionally, the purpose shifted from honoring dead soldiers to something else.

“The framing of the monument, what it is that it’s trying to communicate, changes,” Brundage said. “The earliest monuments articulate their purpose in terms of mourning. It shifts more and more toward celebrating the Confederate cause. They’re to celebrate that the men fought for a noble cause.”

The discussion ended with panelists talking about how to move forward and how to approach truth and reconciliation. Sturkey said it was essential for all to “reconcile” with the past, that racism is a real thing and that “we are all beneficiaries of the system of slavery.” Hanner said it was important to focus on educating the next generation and change the narrative.

“What we are trying to do is understand the psyche behind hatred and understand we were not there,” he said. “I have a lot to do with the future and how I can change our public spaces and us together, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do today with this truth and trying to understand how a monument can be there for cultural heritage and at the same time represent something not good. Can we educate our people to understand both sides of that thing?”

County allays concerns of voter intimidation

Social media activity and a WRAL story with the headline “Protesters at a polling site during early voting wave Confederate flags, shout slurs” aroused some allegations of voter intimidation at the event.

While the “Civil War Today” discussion was occurring, early voting was taking place on the other side of the building. County Human Resources Director Carolyn Miller, who also oversees operations at the Ag Center, said the county had no concerns about the protests affecting voting.

“This was a response we believe was specific to the event,” Miller told the Chatham County Board of Commissioners on Monday afternoon. “We did not have any type of response at any of our other early voting sites. The first two days of early voting were quiet. Today is quiet. So we do believe this was a response specifically to that event, and it was an expected response to that event.”

Later in the evening, board Vice Chair Diana Hales, who attended the event, said she was happy with the Ag Center’s performance.

“I’m always impressed every time I go into the Ag Center how well-organized, how well-run it is,” she said, “and that it’s always very welcoming, even to flag wavers.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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