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My turn, Edward Norvell: Let’s add to memorials, tell entire story

By Edward Norvell

As a child I remember riding by the Confederate Monument “Fame” with my parents looking up at the lovely, bronze, angel-like figure spreading her wings protectively over the fallen soldier, and I thought of it as Salisbury’s guardian angel, watching over us with her watchful eye.

I did not think of the Confederacy; slavery; the Jim Crow era; suppression of black voting rights, separate but very unequal; black people being forced to go to separate schools, hospitals, libraries, doctors, lawyers, places of business, places of worship and separate neighborhoods. I did not know that many of my neighbors saw that statue in a dramatically different way than I did.

Then I learned that Fame was erected in the early 1900s, barely two years after the terrible lynchings that occurred in Salisbury in 1906. It was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of whom was my great aunt, to honor the soldiers from Rowan County who fought and died defending the Confederacy in a terrible Civil War that almost tore our country in two and where more Americans died than in any other war.

I also learned that it was erected shortly after an amendment was added to the North Carolina Constitution that effectively disenfranchised the majority of Black people in the state.

Some want the statue removed. Some want it to remain. It remains a divisive symbol of a painful period in our history. To some, it honors men who were traitors to our county. To others, it honors Rowan County farmers and men defending their land against an invading army.

Recently I was talking to a friend, Sam Cooper, a landscape architect who grew up in Salisbury and has lived in Berlin, Germany, for many years. He told me he has been following the story of the statue. Then, he told me how Germany deals with a painful period of their past, the Nazi era.

He said they do not erase the buildings from the Nazi Era. They let them tell a story.

I personally visited the horrible death camp at Auschwitz, in Germany, when I was a college student.

I will never forget seeing the ovens and rooms filled with suitcases, crutches, wheel chairs and artificial limbs from those who died there. You can also visit the huge stadium in Nuremburg, Germany, where Hitler gathered his party faithful. There are no statues of Hitler or swastikas. They came down shortly after the war, but other reminders remain to tell the story so all will learn from history and dare not repeat it.

Sam told me he thought that we should not move the monument. We should leave it and treat it as a teaching tool. Put up a kiosk or information board similar to the Civil War markers at the Hall House, the old Rowan Court house and the Confederate Prison with a QR code that refers readers to a website that gives even more detail.

This information board should put the statue in context, tell about the Jim Crow Era when Black people were effectively re-enslaved in the South.

As the writer and philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Also appropriate for today is the quote from William Faulkner, “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.”

I say we cannot change the past, but we can change the future.

My sincere hope is that we can come together and develop a plan to deal with “Fame” that the community can agree on.

We have honored those who are buried in the Freedman’s cemetery. We are in the process of honoring those who are buried in the Dixonville Cemetery.

We need to do more to honor those African-Americans who have contributed so much to our community. The list is long — Dr. Joseph C. Price, Dr. James Aggrey, Dr. Sam Duncan, Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, Wiley Lash, Albert Aymer, Al Heggins and the many black men and women who went on to serve our country as judges, clergy, educators, musicians, ambassadors, diplomats, generals and military men and women, just to mention a few.

Let’s not take away the memorials of the past. Let’s add to them and tell our whole story, the good and the bad, so that we will learn from our past and be a better people for it.

Let’s come together as a community like we did at Hood Theological Seminary after the massacre at Mother Immanuel church in Charleston, S.C. and begin a conversation to commit to solving our problems, get beyond statues and tackle the really hard issues facing us like affordable housing, fair housing, equal opportunity, education, access to affordable health care, jobs, economic development, racial equality and racial reconciliation.

Edward Norvell is an attorney in Salisbury.

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