Gov. Roy Cooper called for tearing down Confederate Civil War monuments across the state in the wake of the protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia last week, which was followed by a forcible toppling of a confederate statue in Durham.
The events in Charlottesville occurred in response to the planned removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee that ended in violence on both sides and the death of a counter-protester.
After police drove protesters from the park following violence from both sides, a white supremacist drove a car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer in the street.
The driver has been arrested and charged with homicide.
Cooper made a statement expressing his shock at seeing racism on display in Charlottesville and his distress at finding out that a counter-protester was killed.
Cooper also called for Confederate Civil War memorials and monuments across the state to be torn down, and possibly relocated to historic sites or museums.
“Last weekend, I watched with horror as events in Charlottesville unfolded,” he said. “Having served as North Carolina Attorney General for 16 years, I am all too familiar with the racism, bigotry and full-out white supremacy that exist in corners of our society. But it was shocking to watch these elements displayed so publicly — venom and hatred shamelessly spewed in epithets. My stomach sank to learn that a peaceful counter-protester had been killed and many others injured as the hatred morphed into violence.”
Cooper said that the violence started with a monument, and that it could have just as easily happened in one of the many places in the state where Confederate Civil War monuments exist.
Cooper went on to say that he cannot relate to how it feels for an African-American to walk past a memorial and consider that “those memorialized in stone and metal did not value my freedom or humanity” and that he will not have to explain to his children “why there exists an exalted monument for those who wished to keep her and her ancestors in chains.”
Cooper also cast aside the historical knowledge about secondary and tertiary causes of the Civil War including states’ rights, taxation and other reasons saying, “Some people cling to the belief that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. But history is not on their side.”
Of the seven states which seceded to the Confederate States of America, four submitted detailed documents as to why they were seceding in addition to their articles of secession: these states were Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.
The content of the documents varied from state to state but all included a focus on states’ rights, as well as slavery, in their reasoning for seceding from the union. All four also included President Abraham Lincoln’s election to the office of the President.
Lincoln did not receive a single electoral vote from the South.
While the primary language included in the declarations referred to slavery, other reasons were prominent during the secession.
PBS.org lists states’ rights as a key issue in the secession of many of the southern states, and by extension the outbreak of the Civil War.
Indeed, Cooper’s opinion that states’ rights was not a cause for secession does not seem to be shared by a large portion of the country.
In 2011 the Pew Research Center, on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, released a poll that found that 48 percent of those polled say the war was mainly about states’ rights, while 38 percent said it was mainly about slavery. The remaining 9 percent said that it was about both equally.
So 57 percent of those polled agree that states’ rights were either the primary cause of the war or equally as important as the issue of slavery.
Continuing, Cooper said, “We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery. These monuments should come down.”
Cooper did however open a door for the preservation of the monuments and memorials saying that the history belongs in museums and textbooks and not on the Capitol grounds and that the whole story must be preserved.
“I’ve asked the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to determine the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property as well as alternatives for their placement at museums or historical sites where they can be studied in context,” Cooper said.
Cooper also showed concern for protesters who have taken it into their own hands to tear down these monuments, as happened in Durham on Monday night, where Anti-fa protesters scaled a statue with a Confederate soldier atop it and pulled the statue off of its pedestal.
“My first responsibility as governor is to protect North Carolinians and keep them safe,” Cooper said. “The likelihood of protesters being injured or worse as they may try to topple any one of the hundreds of monuments in our state concerns me. And the potential for those same white supremacist elements we saw in Charlottesville to swarm the site, weapons in hand, in retaliation is a threat to public safety.”
Cooper said that to move forward with the dismantling of the public Confederate monuments first the legislature must repeal the 2015 law that prevents removal or relocation of monuments without approval of the NC Historical Commission.
The law was passed during the blowback from the 2015 shooting at a Charleston church that left nine dead.
Repealing the law would give the decision back to local bodies to decide what to do with their monuments.
Cooper also called for the Senate to vote down a bill that would protect motorists from civil liability that continue through protesters blocking traffic as long as they exercise due care.
The bill does not apply to protesters that have a permit to be in the roadway at the time.
The bill is meant to combat the tactic of blocking traffic, which has grown in popularity in recent months with the Black Lives Matter movement.
House representatives Justin Burr (R-Stanly) and Chris Millis (R-Pender) released a joint statement on the bill saying, “It is intellectually dishonest and a gross mischaracterization to portray North Carolina House Bill 330 as a protection measure for the act of violence that occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. You shouldn’t run out in front of cars on the interstate or the highway and attempt to illegally protest. If you do, it should be at your risk, not at the risk of the liability of those individuals driving down the road.
“We denounce the violence, racism, and acts displayed in Charlottesville that run antithetical to American ideals of peaceful demonstration and the right to free speech. Our thoughts and prayers are with those killed and injured, their families, and our nation as we grieve the tragic events perpetuated by those that wish to divide us.”