I must say, my first reaction when I saw Silent Sam lying with his face in the dirt was, “Well, he was made of better material than that statue in Durham.” Sam looked pretty much intact as he lay there. The Durham Confederate crumbled into a heap of scrap metal when he came down.

My second thought was that protestors were giving Republicans a rallying cry for their base. They played into the hands of the people who want us to believe college campuses on are on the verge of exploding with leftist angst like they did in the 1960s and early 1970s. The GOP can cast themselves as the party that will maintain law and order and protect the heritage of white Southerners.

And the white part is important. As the GOP has descended into the depths of Trumpian populism, Republicans have used race as both a divider and motivator. They need a large turnout from white working class voters to mitigate the impact of the Democratic advantage that’s building across the country. They can use the toppling of Sam to stake themselves out as the defenders of Southern heritage as mobs of unruly students vandalize monuments honoring the Lost Cause.

Former Governor Pat McCrory jumped into the fray comparing the toppling of Sam to Nazi book burnings in 1930s Germany. In fact, toppling Sam is more akin to Russians pulling down statues of Lenin and Stalin or the Iraqis destroying statues of Saddam. Silent Sam and most of the 500 or so other monuments honoring the Confederacy are really physical expressions of white supremacy and racial oppression that defined the Jim Crow era.

At the dedication of Sam, Julian Carr made clear that the monument was a tribute to the men who “saved the very Anglo Saxon race in the South.” On monuments across the region, plaques echo these sentiments, hailing the nobility of the warrior and the righteousness of his cause. They should have come down when we ended Jim Crow fifty years ago.

Instead, the Republicans in the legislature rushed to protect them three years ago when, in the wake of the Mother Emmanuel Massacre, South Carolina decided to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of its capitol. The GOP here passed onerous legislation to prevent local governments from removing statues and monuments. They blocked amendments that would have allowed for a “reasonable, legal process for removal,” as reporter Kirk Ross tweeted. In essence, they made the monuments a protected class.

The students who brought down Sam acted because they believed the power structure wouldn’t. In their eyes, the power of democracy had broken down. Despite overwhelming sentiment in the University community, a monument to white supremacy was protected by state government and university officials unwilling to challenge it. Congressman David Price correctly characterized the felling as civil disobedience.

If these monuments are truly meant to only memorialize Confederate dead and not honor the cause for which they fought, then they should be moved to battlefields or cemeteries. They certainly should not be protected on property that serves all North Carolinians equally, especially courthouses or universities. The people who are decrying mob rule should be demanding a process for their speedy removal in places that want them gone.


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