Aug. 7. By Dave Yochum. The last official Confederate Reunion may have been held more than 65 years ago in Cornelius, but the Civil War and how its dead are remembered is still the subject of discussion.
Volunteers and trustees of the Mt. Zion Monument Association took scrub brushes and power washers in hand today to clean up the statue that sits on association property in front of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church.
It was vandalized last month, along with at least three other Confederate monuments in North Carolina in the wake of the tragedy at Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June.
It’s a larger discussion than who owns the monument, the church, of course, does not.
UNC-Charlotte history professor David Goldfield said Confederate monuments are important because they demonstrate our link to and respect for the past.
“They are also a statement of what we value most at present,” he said.
The Confederate Monument in Cornelius, includes the Confederate battle flag, was dedicated in 1910. A Confederate soldier stands at parade rest, with his rifle resting on the ground.
Forty five years after the end of the war, those who remained in Cornelius had to be keenly aware of the friends and loved ones they lost during the conflict.
Inscribed on the monument is this:
“THOUGH MEN DESERVE / THEY MAY NOT WIN SUCCESS / THE BRAVE WILL HONOR THE BRAVE / VANQUISHED NONE THE LESS.”
That is about bravery, not slavery.
Goldfield says the dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial, now a symbol of national reconciliation, almost missed the point in 1922.
“Only at the last minute, did the organizers of the dedication realize that it might be a good idea to include an African American speaker,” Goldfield explains.
But at the same time, monuments erected during periods of disfranchisement 45 years later symbolically reinforced those who held wealth and power. The Confederate monument cost $10,000 in 1910, the equivalent of roughly $250,000 today.
The average American worker made $200 to $400 a year. The average life expectancy in 1910 was only 47 years for a man.
Goldfield says Confederate monuments and memorials had more than one meaning even when they were erected.
“Yes, they are a tribute to those who fought and died—and many of those did not own slaves and were protecting their homes and families—but many of them were put up between the 1890s and 1920s to reinforce disfranchisement, Jim Crow laws, and the supremacy of the white race. So monuments are as much if not more about the present as they are of the past,” he said.
No one knows exactly what was in the minds of the Cornelius people who erected the statue 105 years ago. Even their children are dead.
At the University of Texas, Austin, a statue of Jefferson Davis has stood for decades. More recently, there is now a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. On Monument Avenue in Richmond, there is a series of statues and memorials to Confederate heroes. But at the end there is a statue of Arthur Ashe, the African American tennis great.
“The worst thing we can do is to vandalize, destroy, or remove these Confederate icons. Burying history only makes it fester and creates even greater myths than the monuments themselves portray. Of course, building competing statues is expensive. An alternative is to have an explanatory plaque next to these monuments and memorials. For decades in the South, public space belonged to whites. It’s long past time to have public space belong to everyone,” Goldfield says.