Every now and then, something happens to remind us that we, need to face our history, confronting the difficulties we’ve had in fulfilling America’s promise of full equality and justice for all.
That reminder this time, namely a memorial to Confederate soldiers of Sampson County, is located in the heart of downtown Clinton, raised on a pedestal, for all to see, at the south entrance into our county’s center of justice. That Confederate statue was dedicated on May 10, 1916, 51 years following the Civil War and emancipation of the slaves, as a reminder to everyone that the South’s Lost Cause was still just.
Just for more clarity, the Confederate soldiers, honored by that statue in downtown Clinton, fought in the Civil War to help maintain the institution of slavery, a $2 billion investment, and the Southern way of life built around that same institution.
Now, let me briefly recount how the South, defeated on the battlefield during the Civil War, still got in a position to be able to honor individuals who had fought against their own country, people we call traitors. Well, at the end of the Civil War, which the Confederacy lost, an attempt was made to fulfill the American promise of full equality and justice for black Americans in the South.
With the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments which ended slavery, gave blacks equal protection of the law and allowed black men the right to vote, respectively, on paper, the vision of full equality for blacks was recorded and embedded in the U.S. Constitution. However, over time, the former Confederate leaders regained control of the Southern states, and the Federal Government failed at Reconstruction, refusing to insist on black Americans’ “full and equal participation in American life,” missing out on another opportunity to strike a bold move for freedom, equality and justice for all.
Following Reconstruction, the South remained fearful of black Americans and set about determining the black man’s place in southern society. In North Carolina, race relations took a “savage turn” following the white supremacy victory in the 1898 election, resulting in the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898. And by the early 1900s, institutional racism had become entrenched across the South as the law, the courts, the schools, almost every institution in the South favored the white man.
All these events became part of the backdrop leading up to the proposal presented to the Sampson County Commissioners on May 10, 1911 to help fund the erection of a Confederate monument on the Sampson County Courthouse grounds. On the 50th anniversary of North Carolina seceding from the Union, May 10, 1911, the County Board voted to use taxpayers’ money to fund the Confederate monument.
Today, over 100 years later, let’s not squander another opportunity to bring about meaningful change for the greater advancement of equality and justice for all. The Confederate monument needs to be removed.
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton High School.