My Turn, Missy Shives: Take down hate, not statues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Yes, discussion is needed, and I applaud our Salisbury City Council for its recognition of this need.

In email exchanges with my two adult sons who live elsewhere, we have discussed some of the incidents which have occurred since the tragic shootings in Charleston. Most recently I had sent them a link to an article about the removal of Confederate monuments and how it divides Americans. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, people are calling for the removal of Confederate statues along Monument Avenue, a scenic street that is a major attraction for the city.

My son, John, replied:

“I don’t think that South Carolina or any other state should fly the Confederate flag on Gov’t property. We should be the United States, not the Divided States, of America.

“With this said, removing/defacing monuments to Southern heroes also seems wrong to me. The Civil War was an important (and complicated) part of our country’s history. Attempting to simplify it to a few symbols and sound bites makes it easy for our ADHD society, but leaves out much of the lasting importance of the war and its effect on our nation today. The strong, centralized gov’t that developed during/after the Civil War enables us to be the only remaining superpower today.

“Our laws are also supposed to apply to all people. Individuals should still be allowed to fly whatever flag they choose. Racists are still covered by the First Amendment. Vandals should still be arrested and prosecuted!

“It seems to be much easier for our society to argue over symbols than to deal with the phenomenon of mentally ill gunmen!”

I’m not sure whether the gunman was mentally ill or whether he was filled with intense hate and anger. Both need to be addressed. But it is imperative that we don’t react with a knee-jerk attempt to solve major problems in our society.

Like the Bell Tower nearby, the Confederate statue is a symbol of Salisbury. Indeed, it is a statue erected as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the Civil War. But we should not forget the Civil War. It was a tragic war, resulting in the death of thousands of soldiers and unprecedented destruction throughout the South. We should remember this and never let it happen again. On the positive side, the war also resulted in the freeing of slaves – a very necessary, and long overdue, act.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederacy have every right to be proud of their ancestors. Those ancestors did what they thought was right; they fought, and many died, for what they believed. They did what they had been taught. Our children will do what they are taught as well. They will seek hate, retaliation and revenge if that is what we teach them; they will seek reconciliation and forgiveness if that’s what they’re taught.

I’d like to see us try to remove hate, not statues. I suggest we strive for reconciliation – for acceptance of others and their beliefs, for forgiveness which is also needed, and for unity.

In an effort at unity in 1998 the Waterworks Visual Arts Center initiated a project to reopen the Old English Cemetery to include the adjoining Oak Grove Freedman’s Cemetery behind it. This large, public art memorial was controversial at the time, but it did, indeed, make a statement of inclusiveness. It was a reminder of slavery and the mistreatment of African-Americans.

Now I think we need another project aimed at inclusiveness. In addition to “Fame,” the beautiful statue erected in 1909, I suggest we erect a statue called “Hope,” a statue for the 21st century, in a prominent place, which would symbolize reconciliation, respect and unity.

Missy Shives lives in Salisbury.

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