Yesterday, the UNC Board of Trustees struggled to figure out what to do with Silent Sam, the monument honoring Confederate soldiers that was toppled earlier this year. Much of the board would prefer to move the statue off campus but state law prevents that. Instead, the board recommended a new history center near the southern edge of campus to house it.
We need to remember the genesis of that state law. The law is not old and hasn’t been on the books long. It’s a sordid story that tells a lot about the character of the current leaders of the GOP and their motivations.
On June 17, 2015, Dylan Roof entered an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered the nine parishioners. Roof said he was a white supremacists who was trying to start a race war. In response to the horrific event, the South Carolina legislature removed the Confederate flag that had flown on the capitol grounds since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement about 60 years ago. Across the South cities and states took similar actions to remove monuments to white supremacy.
So what did Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly do? They passed a bill that prevents the removal of any Confederate memorials without the approval of the legislature. That’s right. At a time when the African-American community across the nation, but especially in the South, was grieving, the North Carolina GOP sent a message that they would stand with those who honor the legacy of white supremacy instead of those who were victims of it.
It’s a pattern of Republican denial and dog whistles that have been going on for decades. When Republicans opposed the Martin Luther King Holiday, Jesse Helms claimed that wasn’t about racism or civil rights, it was because King was a communist sympathizer who didn’t deserve respect. When they passed the monster voter suppression bill that disproportionately restricted access to the polls African-Americans, they claimed it was about the integrity of elections. Yet when real election fraud shows up and benefits GOP candidates, they’re calling for the election to be certified in spite of the blatant cheating.
Not all Republicans are racists, maybe not even most, but almost all of them tolerate pandering to the ones who are. The legacy of Silent Sam is no longer about the Civil War; it’s about politicians who stand with those who memorialize white supremacy. The lesson of Bladen County election fraud is that Republicans’ rhetoric about protecting the integrity of elections is just that–rhetoric. The voter suppression tactics were, in fact, about disenfranchising voters who disagree with them. To paraphrase Andrew Gillium again, not all Republicans are racists, but the racists are almost all Republican.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >