Moving the Confederate statue isn’t erasing history


There are undoubtedly many who believe moving the Confederate statue that stands in front of Chatham County’s historic courthouse is the same thing as erasing history. But memories are complicated, even when limited to our sense of our own past. They can be used as a shield to protect us, or a sword to hurt others. They can also be buried.

Only a few years ago, if someone had asked me about my family history, I would have said that I’m the grandson and great-grandson of tobacco farmers in North Carolina. Since then, I’ve come to learn, as most of us eventually do, that there is sometimes an enormous difference between the truth and the whole truth.

And the whole truth is that I’m also a direct descendant of more than two dozen slaveholders, including three generations of slaveholders in Chatham County: Joseph Hackney Sr., Daniel Hackney Sr., and Daniel Hackney Jr. That last one, while serving as a Baptist deacon, “owned” 14 enslaved Africans, mostly children, according to the 1860 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedules.

Daniel Hackney Jr., is especially interesting because he also represented Chatham County in the North Carolina General Assembly in the 1840s and 1850s, very clearly and forthrightly defended states’ rights to protect property rights (i.e., slavery), and served as an officer in the Home Guard for Chatham County during the Civil War. With the advent of peace, he was ordained as a preaching elder, although I’m not aware of any evidence that he repented of his past opinions about enslaving human beings.

On January 4, 1861, a group of citizens in Chatham County, after first participating in a Christian worship service, passed this resolution that Hackney helped to write:

“That we are satisfied by the present constitution, so amended as will forever settle the question of slavery in the States, and the much vexed question of Congressional intervention in the territories, on the subject of slavery, in such a way that slave property shall have the same protection from the general Government as other property; and that the citizens hereafter shall be unmolested in the enjoyment of said property...”

Hackney and others then spoke at that same meeting in favor of the Union, “provided that the Federal laws are faithfully executed and our rights of property respected.” So until the moment of secession, Hackney was an as-it-was-with-slavery-Unionist rather than an as-it-might-be-without-slavery-Unionist. His desire, printed in black and white in newspapers, to be unmolested in the enjoyment of his property, which is to say African children, women, and men, is a difficult but necessary truth to acknowledge.

I believe the 14 human beings enslaved by my great-great-great-grandfather and those enslaved by his father and grandfather would protest the presence of a Confederate monument outside the old county courthouse. The formerly enslaved were supposed to find justice there. However, it became more elusive for them by the turn of the century.

That monument was erected in the early 20th century after conservatives had regained control of the North Carolina General Assembly in the election of 1898 through a political campaign that emphasized white supremacy, fueled racial tensions, and in some cases suppressed voting by African Americans with threats of violence. As a result, African Americans were, within just a few years, legally disenfranchised throughout the Old North State.

Chief Justice Walter Clark of the North Carolina Supreme Court, a former Confederate officer, was the guest speaker for the dedication of the monument in 1907. He suggested the possibility that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution “to secure the rights of the newly emancipated colored people” had not been adopted legally and praised “those who followed the cross-barred emblem of our fiery Southern faith.”

Clark would later give the 1920 commencement address at St. Augustine’s School (now St. Augustine’s University) in Raleigh. It’s a historically African American educational institution that was founded in 1867 by the Episcopal Church for the education of freed slaves. Shamelessly, his remarks included these words:

"It is true that our colored people wear 'the shadowed livery of the burnished sun' and there is no social equality between the races, but the latter condition exists in every country where there are two or more distinct races of people. The colored people do not wish social equality, and the white people would not tolerate it, and there the matter ends. It is not a matter of debate, but is settled and not a cause of strife like the divergence in language, in religion, in national aspirations which exists in nearly every other country... As to suffrage, which I do not intend to discuss in any way, I think that the wiser heads among the colored people have discouraged any attempt to intermeddle in politics and that the colored race has lost nothing but gained much by abstaining from doing so against the wishes of the white people..."

Surely those African American graduates, their enslaved ancestors, and their descendants wouldn’t describe men who took up arms in the rebellion as “Our Confederate Heroes.” And surely even white conscripts from Chatham County forced to serve in the Confederate army unwillingly would not want themselves to be described with those words that are written in stone beneath the feet of a soldier made of copper. The monument falsely assumes their devotion to that rebellion until their last breath.

Not glorifying the incomprehensible violence and death that resulted from a desire to keep Africans and their descendants enslaved is part of loving God and loving my neighbor as a follower of Jesus. May God forgive us for our past inhumanity and our present indifference. And may we be granted the courage not to forget the racist views that surrounded and preceded the dedication of this statue on the front lawn of a symbol of justice. That’s the history that people have tried to erase from our collective memory.

The Rev. Neil Alan Willard is a native North Carolinian, an alumnus of Wake Forest University and Yale Divinity School, and the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston.


8 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • Bizzette1964

    I am also a descendant of Joseph Hackney Sr. of Chatham County, so its always nice to meet a cousin. But I have to take issue with your premise that the Monument in Pittsboro was erected to symbolize White Supremacy. Explain the Confederate Monument erected by Union Veterans in 1895 in Chicago to honor Confederate soldiers who were imprisoned there.... The Kalamazoo Telegraph reported, “The valor of the soldiers of the South was as great as that of the soldiers of the North, and the monument dedicated in Chicago Thursday was not dedicated to the lost cause, but to the brave men who fought so valiantly for what they thought was right.” That same year the Confederate Monument in Raleigh was unveiled with over 30,000 people in attendance, one of the largest crowds ever to gather at the capital......... In 1898, President William McKinley, himself a Union veteran of the Civil War declared, “Every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate Civil War is a tribute to American valor. And the time has now come … when in the spirit of fraternity, we should share in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers.”

    Afterward, Confederate graves were moved to Arlington National Cemetery.

    In 1906, Secretary of War William Howard Taft approved the Confederate Monument at Arlington which was unveiled by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1914 with both Union and Confederate Veterans in attendance......Some of the largest gatherings in Pittsboro in the late 19th century were Confederate reunions. These men were proud of their service and the populace was proud of them. No monuments were erected following the War because, for one thing, The South was militarily occupied by Federal Soldiers for twelve years [1865-1877]. Many Confederate Veterans were arrested after the War for simply wearing their uniform jackets, which were referred to as "Criminal Coats," and the thought of erecting monuments at that time would have been unthinkable.

    Friday, September 20, 2019 Report this

  • Neil_Alan_Willard

    (Part 1 of 2) Mr. Mattocks, thank you for your comment. My hope is that people like us will see our African American neighbors as cousins in the human family, acknowledging that some of our ancestors who were citizens of Chatham County enslaved their ancestors and, even after praying and preaching in the name of Jesus, only wanted the Union to survive if they could “be unmolested in the enjoyment of [their human] property.” Also, it seems to me one would have to state that the populace, which includes our African American neighbors, was divided before, during, and after the Civil War. That’s especially true in Chatham County, which was part of the so-called Quaker Belt in North Carolina. An incredible book about that part of our history is William T. Auman’s Civil War in the North Carolina Quaker Belt: The Confederate Campaign Against Peace Agitators, Deserters and Draft Dodgers.

    Brigadier General Collett Leventhrope doesn’t technically fall under the banner of “Our Confederate Heroes” as inscribed on the Confederate monument in front of the historic courthouse in Chatham County because he didn’t live there. However, as Supreme Commander for North Carolina’s Guard for Home Defense beginning in 1864, he does represent part of what it celebrates. I find it ironic that defenders of the Lost Cause often highlight how outsiders threatened the homes and way of life of North Carolinians without realizing that North Carolinians terrorized their own neighbors. Here’s how Auman describes what Leventhrope did not only in Chatham County but also in counties to the west of it:

    “His troops scoured the Quaker Belt for deserters in this sixth foray by Confederate and state forces into the district during the war. His troops penned the wives, children, and elderly parents of deserters in makeshift prisons, where they remained for days with inadequate food, water, and shelter until the deserters surrendered to military authorities. In several instances, the troops tortured the wives of deserters to force them to reveal the hiding places of their husbands.”

    Saturday, September 21, 2019 Report this

  • Neil_Alan_Willard

    (Part 2 of 2) In his book, Auman quotes from Confederate Congressman J.M. Leach’s letter to Confederate Governor Zebulon Vance on September 18, 1864, urging him “for humanity’s sake” to restrain those soldiers and giving examples of how they were treating their fellow citizens:

    “. . . the choking & dragging some hundred yards on the ground of an old lady, skinning her knees [and] hips till they bleed — & she a respectable and respected woman, — insulting delicate women with children at their breast, cursing them & their little ones for asking for bread after having been arrested & held for days out in camp — following women of admitted respectability in obeying the calls of nature taunting them hissing obscene language seizing another & dragging her by the arms & head etc etc — eating up & wasting & destroying the little that a deserter’s wife or child or mother may have etc etc — arresting & taking to camp & insulting the sister of one of our merchants of this place who is also a magistrate & tax assessor for this county & a terribly strong Vance man.”

    Auman also quotes from lawyer Thomas Settle’s letter to Governor Vance on October 4, 1864, protesting the legality of the order by which all of these things were taking place:

    “I found in Chatham, Randolph, and Davidson that some fifty women in each County & some of them in delicate health and far advanced in pregnancy were rudly (in some instances) draged from their homes & put under close guard & there kept for some weeks. The consequences in some instances have been shocking. Women have been frightened into abortions almost under the eyes of their terrifiers. . . . I know that your Excellency never has intended by any order to justify torture & yet in many cases where the treatment has been equally as bad as it was in the Owens Case, the officers boldly avow their conduct & say that they understand your orders to be a full justification. Last week in Randolph I tried a man who had actually hung his neighbor until he was senseless, in order to extort confessions from him.”

    Saturday, September 21, 2019 Report this

  • Bizzette1964

    I do agree with you. We were divided during the War. One of the more infamous Unionist Guerrillas was William Owens of Moore County. In fact he was in jail in Pittsboro at the end of the War when he was forcibly taken out of his cell, marched out of town and shot dead. My point with the monuments is that the erection of the majority of them came about when the nation was trying to heal from the War. This began in earnest after the Spanish American War, in which many Southerners fought.

    Sunday, September 22, 2019 Report this

  • Bizzette1964

    I agree with the fact that we were divided during the War. Thomas Settle's letter to Vance mentions the infamous Unionist Guerrilla William Owens of Moore County. In fact he was in jail in Pittsboro at the end of the War when he was forcibly taken out of his cell, marched out of town and shot dead. My point with the monuments is that the origin of the majority of them stemmed from an effort to heal from the War which began in earnest after the Spanish American War, in which many Southerners fought. This was a national movement to recognize the soldiers of the South and even included Confederate leaders on U.S. Stamps and coins. The theory that the monuments were erected to intimidate Blacks is baseless and without merit. As far as racial attitudes, they were widespread and not just isolated to the South. Lincoln certainly voiced his opinion on many occasions that he believed in the inferiority of Blacks. Should his monuments come down? I respect your opinion and honestly understand your motives. But I am a historian and I do not believe in removing monuments. It is a slippery slope. This subject always reminds me of the story C.I.A. Officer Mike Ackerman wrote about in his book "Street Man." While stationed in Moscow, he visited a Leningrad museum dedicated to the Russian Revolution. While examining a mural depicting leaders of the Revolution, he soon found himself in a conversation with a Russian Professor. Ackerman remarked that Leon Trotsky, Commissar of Defense at the time of the Bolshevik uprising, was missing from the mural. To Ackerman’s astonishment, the Professor replied that Trotsky had nothing to do with the Revolution. Ackerman countered that Trotsky was the head of the Red Army and was as responsible as anyone for the victory. Later while Ackerman was walking down the street the Professor approached him and whispered "Do you have a moment," to which Ackerman stopped and replied "Yes." Looking around, the Professor whispered "Then tell me about Trotsky."

    Sunday, September 22, 2019 Report this

  • Neil_Alan_Willard

    (Part 1 of 3) Mr. Mattocks, I understand the desire to remember those who participated in a defining moment for our nation, especially at a time when those who had survived were rapidly becoming fewer in number. But the populace never universally embraced this manner of memorialization, especially on the front lawn of a symbol of justice. Less than two weeks after this statue was unveiled in Chatham County, it was defaced with black shoe polish and grease. The headline about that in the Raleigh News and Observer on September 7, 1907, read: “Hanging Too Good For Miscreant Who Defaced Confederate Monument.” And the article beneath that headline proclaimed it to be “one of the most disgraceful acts of vandalism ever known in a civilized community.” White citizens who had been Unionists and African American citizens who had been enslaved, and then recently disenfranchised, might not have shed any tears over “such a despicable act,” as it was described. That’s because other citizens of Chatham County had taken up arms to ensure that they would “be unmolested in the enjoyment of [their human] property.” They said so.

    With respect to the social environment in which these kinds of statues were dedicated, the examples of those events in Forsyth County and on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are extremely disturbing. When the Confederate monument in Forsyth County was dedicated in 1905, the guest speaker was Alfred Moore Waddell, who had been a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate cavalry and was a United States representative during the 1870s. It seems to me that one could only describe him as a white terrorist. This man, who said in his speech, “I thank God that monuments to the Confederate soldier are rapidly multiplying in the land,” was also the Mayor of Wilmington, having first gained that office in 1898 through the only successful coup d’etat in the history of the United States. That's when white Democrats overthrew the legally elected officials of the city and expelled black Republican leaders. Emboldened by Democratic election victories in the fall of 1898 throughout most of North Carolina, an armed white mob seized control of the city. Before sunset, they had forced the mayor, the board of aldermen, and the chief of police to resign.

    On the eve of that election in North Carolina, Waddell said these words that were later printed in Atlanta’s Constitution newspaper on November 21, 1898: “You are Anglo-Saxons. You are armed and prepared, and you will do your duty. Be ready at a moment’s notice. Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him. Shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.”

    Sunday, September 22, 2019 Report this

  • Neil_Alan_Willard

    (Part 2 of 3) When the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue was dedicated on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1913, the guest speaker was Julian Carr, who had publicly celebrated the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and eventually became a member of that white terrorist organization. Like Waddell, he was also a Confederate veteran and had advocated the murder of African Americans. In his speech about “Silent Sam,” Carr said:

    “The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When ‘the bottom rail was on top’ all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God. I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.”


Like Chief Justice Walter Clark, Carr also gave an address to students at a historically African American educational institution. According to William Sturkey, an assistant professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill, Carr shamelessly stated these words to African Americans at North Carolina A&T in 1899: “The whole world admits that it was a mistake to have given universal suffrage to the negroes.” This is the man who was invited to praise the unveiling of “Silent Sam.”

    It was not a mistake to give formerly enslaved African Americans the right to vote as citizens of the United States. Yet that right had been taken away legally from most African Americans by the State of North Carolina when these statues were dedicated before cheering crowds. As a Christian, I don’t praise God for Confederate soldiers having “saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South” and preserving by their sacrifice “the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon” in the former Confederate states. Rather, I praise God that slavery was abolished in spite of the wishes of some of our ancestors, that the Civil Rights Movement restored much of what had been taken away from African Americans by white men like those who were the honored guest speakers at the dedication of these Confederate monuments, and that my African American neighbors were created in the image of God just like you and me. That’s something worthy to celebrate.

    Sunday, September 22, 2019 Report this

  • Neil_Alan_Willard

    (Part 3 of 3) Two years ago, I happened to read an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that was written by a self-described “black daughter of the Confederacy.” Her name is Lisa Richardson, and, like me, she’s the descendant of a Confederate soldier. The difference, as she notes in her essay, is that she finds herself in that category most likely “through coerced sex and rape,” which was tolerated within the institution of slavery. Also like me, a victory for one side of her family meant defeat for another side of her family. In Richardson’s case, however, the end of the rebellion brought an end to the institution of slavery and, therefore, freedom to her enslaved ancestors. With her, I rejoice that the rebellion did not succeed in its aim to deny that freedom to millions of human beings whose ancestors came from Africa. With her, I lament that white supremacist ideas have survived the fall the Confederacy, emerging renewed as these Confederate statues were dedicated and, sadly, continuing into our own day. Here’s part of what Richardson wrote:

    “History isn’t being erased, but it is being corrected. Relocating a Confederate statue to, say, a museum, is an acknowledgment that we see the naked emperor; we see through the contorted logic that it is possible to separate the Confederacy from the institution of slavery . . .

    “As for my Confederate ancestor, [Jeremiah Dial, who enlisted in the 31st Regiment, Arkansas Infantry,] I consider him without bitterness. He was a man of his time, his family, his community and his culture. He probably wasn’t particularly evil — just an ordinary man, without the advantage we have: [more than a century and a half’s] perspective on the Civil War. I have met a few of his white descendants — my cousins — and we regard each other with genuine affection.

    “To those who would keep Jeremiah Dial frozen in time, forever trapped at the moment he chose a cause on the wrong side of humanity, I believe you do him a disservice. To those who use him as an excuse to fly the flag of modern-day anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry, you have no right.

    “To all the bronze Confederate soldiers, in whom I see the image of my great-great-great-grandfather, I would extend this grace. Without resentment or rancor, I would move them into museums and there tell the story of their lives. I would end their utility as flashpoints for racism and division, and, once and for all, allow them to retire from their long service as sentries over a whitewashed history.”

    Sunday, September 22, 2019 Report this