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Durham's Confederate Statue Comes Down
Durham's Confederate Statue Comes Down
Unwilling to wait for local officials to act to take down a Civil War
monument, a group of protesters took matters into their own hands Monday
David A. Graham
David A. Graham
6:00 AM ET
A shorter URL for the above link:
Around 7 p.m. Monday, a group of protestors, inspired by the violent riots
over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville,
Virginia, decided that if Durham County was in no hurry to take down the
rebel soldier, theyd do so themselves. As Durham County commissioners met
inside the building, which now houses county offices, a group of
protestors wrapped a yellow rope around the statue and pulled. In what
might seem a blunt metaphor for the fate of Confederate symbols in
progressive Southern cities like Durham, the statue tumbled down with
barely any effort, crumpling at the feet of its imposing granite pedestal.
(Although the icon was allegedly made of bronze, one doubts.)
The statue had stood on the courthouses manicured lawn since 1924, when
the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected it. At the time, it had
been 59 years since the Civil War ended. The smell of tobacco wafted out
of warehouses and factories and across downtown Durham, and a mile and a
half down Main Street, tiny Trinity College hadnt yet changed its name to
Duke University. For 83 years, the Confederate picket watched over all who
entered the building. And then, in a matter of seconds, he was gone,
irreparably destroyed by his fall: his musket mangled, his legs bent
forward, and a huge dent in his head from some zealous protesters boot.
By the time I arrived, less than an hour after the statue had fallen, the
street was blocked off by sheriffs deputies cars. The protesters had
marched a few blocks down Main Street, toward where the Durham Police
Department is building a controversial new headquarters. A mix of young
and old, black and white, graying hippies and black-clad anarchists,
yelled Fuck Trump and held signs saying, Black Lives Matter and The Whole
Damn System Is Guilty as Hell. Street medics stood to the side, ready if
anyone was hurt. One man toted a guitar, seemingly more as prop than
There was still an air of euphoria in the crowd. Everyone seemed amazed
how easily the statue had come down. For most Americans, the mention of a
statue being toppled immediately conjures footage of the Saddam Hussein
statue pulled down in Firdos Square in Baghdad in 2003, early in a war
that had probably radicalized a few of the demonstrators in Durham. The
Confederate soldier hadnt required a long process or the help of a
tankjust a good tug and hed come right down. Even stranger, no police had
intervened, even as the protesters brought out a rope and a ladder.
Sheriffs deputies had just watched.
Having reached the police station, the crowd seemed unsure what to do and
went back to the courthouse. One particularly energetic man walked up to
the police cars, carrying a Cops and Klan Go Hand in Hand placard taunting
them. Deputies seemed determine not to so much as make eye contact, much
less engage. When another man got too close, a deputy shooed him away.
Meanwhile, several other deputies, wearing body armor, were filming
everything. (Get my good side! the man with the Cops and Klan placard
demanded.) The rumor in the crowd was that officers had decided it was
easier to film the crowd and make arrests later than to try to intervene
in the moment.
Finally, at about 8:30 p.m., a deputy demanded that everyone disperse. A
few of the more hardened protestors, apparently members of a local
anarchist group (they were, unsurprisingly, unwilling to give their names
or declare an affiliation) herded the remainder away down the street,
warned that people not so much as jaywalk lest they give officers a
pretext for arrest, and then made sure that no one was walking back to a
car alone, lest police quietly arrest them.
Today, major racial disparities persist in Durham County and city. Forty
percent of the population of both the city and county are black, and
inside city limit, black and white populations are about equal. But
African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to
be arrested for marijuana, and more likely to be poor. Gentrification is a
growing problem here, as in many other midsize cities. As if it were not
ridiculous enough for black taxpayers to be subsidizing the upkeep of a
monument to a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved, a statue
celebrating a war fought to maintain white supremacy seemed a
contradiction too painful and incongruous to remain in todays Durham.
Much has been written about the way that social-justice protests and
demands to tear down statues, whether of Robert E. Lee or of anonymous
soldiers like this one, can inspire a backlash among white who feel that
their country and heritage are being erased. Examples of that backlash
include the 500 white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville this
weekend, or the South Carolina
Its now clear that there are plenty of people in Durham who have no
interest in this kind of gradualism. If white supremacists are being
radicalized by the removals of Confederate monuments, theres a coalition
of leftists that is reacting to them with their own radicalization,
deciding that if elected leaderswhether Cooper or county commissionerswont
move fast, theyll do so themselves.
And its hard to imagine that Durham will prove unique in this matter.
Video of the statue coming down zoomed around the web, where it will
inspire protesters elsewhere. There are plenty of potential targets. Just
down the road from Durham is Chapel Hill, a quaint, liberal college town
like Charlottesville. On the campus of the University of North Carolina
stands a monument to alumni who fought and died for the Confederacy.
Silent Sam has stood for more than 100 years, but hes increasingly
controversial, and has been repeatedly vandalized recently. If Silent Sam
continues to stand watch over campus, will Carolina students and Chapel
Hillians wait patiently for his removal through legal processes, or will
they, too, turn to extralegal means?
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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