Today’s New York Times has an op-ed from Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle titled “The ‘Silent Sam’ Confederate Monument at U.N.C. Was Toppled. What Happens Next?” I was very interested to read this in light of their article in The Atlantic three years ago concerning confederate memorials. In the earlier article, they favored leaving the memorials in place with placards explaining their origins in white supremacy. They made the case that leaving them standing with historical context would encourage Americans to come to terms with their troubled racial past.
In today’s article, however, they reverse themselves. They write:
We once believed that Confederate statues should be left up but also placed in historical context. In 2015, we argued that they’re artifacts that teach us important lessons about the segregated South, not the Civil War. We urged that Confederate monuments be supplemented with plaques that clarified their historical evasions, Jim Crow origins and white supremacist function.
Over time, however, we lost our enthusiasm for this approach because it prioritizes pedagogical concerns over the experiences of African-American residents.
The debate about the disposition of these monuments is a difficult one and is ongoing. But the part that jumped out at me in their article today was a quote from a speech delivered at the 1913 dedication of the “Silent Sam” monument at U.N.C. According to the op-ed, Confederate veteran and white supremacist Julian Carr bragged during the speech about horsewhipping a black woman:
One hundred yards from where we stand, I horsewhipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds.
It takes your breath away to imagine that such a thing could be uttered in public with no one batting an eye—that such violence could not only be tolerated but also bragged about in the light of day. Nevertheless, there it is.
It turns out that Julian Carr’s entire speech is available to read here. The context is even worse. Keep in mind, these words are from a speech delivered to the public at the dedication of the “Silent Sam” confederate monument in 1913. Carr exclaimed:
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.
What a horror. He brags of white supremacy and racial violence in the open air and takes the Lord’s name in vain in doing so. Whatever one believes about the present disposition of such monuments, one cannot deny that many of them have their origin in white racial domination. Such was certainly the case for “Silent Sam.” There is no way to sanitize this history. To look that history hard in the face is difficult, but we are the worse if we don’t.