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My Turn, Kendal Mobley: ‘Fame’ referendum, other assumptions based on false premises

By Kendal Mobley

Several recent letters to the Post have called for a referendum to reconsider the relocation of the Confederate monument known as “Fame.” Such calls are based on false premises. 

The fundamental false premise is that a referendum is somehow justified. Last year, Salisbury’s City Council and the Hoke Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy agreed to move the monument, privately owned by the Hoke Chapter, to the Old Lutheran Cemetery on North Lee Street, where 175 Confederate soldiers are buried. The agreement complies with North Carolina General Statute 100 – 2.1 regarding the protection of historic monuments. Furthermore, referenda are not allowed unless approved by the North Carolina legislature. Consequently, there is no justification for a referendum. 

Some claim that “Fame” represents all veterans of the U.S. military. That is false. The people who built the monument announced its purpose frequently and clearly as they raised the money for it and celebrated its unveiling. They wanted to glorify the Confederacy. “Fame” is not dedicated to all soldiers — certainly not the federal troops who fought and died in defense of the Union. It is dedicated to the Confederate soldiers of Rowan County. Confederate General Bennet H. Young, the keynote speaker at the monument’s dedication, lauded the antebellum South as the pinnacle of civilization and said of the Confederacy, “We failed and yet we know we stood for truth.”

Contrast that with the view of General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. In his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on July 9, General Milley said of the Confederacy, “It was an act of treason at the time against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution, and those officers turned their back on their oath.” “Fame” does not represent veterans of the U.S. military, nor was it ever intended to represent them. 

Finally, some writers refer to winged “Fame” as an angel who is about to fly a dying Confederate soldier to heaven. But “Fame” is a muse, a goddess from Greek polytheism. She is the pagan symbol of earthly glory. A quick Internet search of “Pheme” (the English transliteration of the Greek name) yields many similar representations of “Fame,” with wings, a trumpet,\ and a laurel wreath. The “Fame” atop the Salisbury monument holds no trumpet; instead, she supports the dying Confederate soldier with her right arm. 

Frances C. Tiernan chaired the committee that raised the money and built “Fame.” She wrote a poem, “Gloria Victis,” (English: “Glory to the Vanquished”) to celebrate the unveiling in 1909. In the poem, there is no flight to heaven. At the soldier’s death, the goddess crowns him with the laurel wreath, representing the immortality of earthly renown. “Fame” was never about the hereafter. It was always about glorifying the Confederacy in the here and now. 

So, “Fame” is not an angel. But in the cultural context of Rowan County, where conservative Christianity predominates, seeing her as an angel served the monument’s purpose just as well. In 1991, Marian Wethington, then president of the Hoke Chapter, told the Salisbury Post, “I think we want it to be an angel. Anything else wouldn’t vindicate the South.” 

Vindication of the South — of the Confederacy — was and is the real purpose of “Fame.” It’s time to face facts and tell the truth — about “Fame,” about the Confederacy and about the referendum fallacy. The Salisbury City Council and the Hoke Chapter came to a legitimate agreement in good faith. Preparations for the monument’s relocation and the security of the site are almost complete. There is no justification for a referendum or any other delay for the relocation of “Fame.” 

Kendal Mobley teaches religious studies at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte.

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