Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor during World War II, is famous for saying: “When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out as I was not a Jew.” He would continue naming groups he knew his audience did not identify with until he ended with, “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Ideological groups like Antifa, Nazis, Communists and white supremacists are driven by hate that decent people have fought throughout history. Their methods involve dividing people, co-opting a cause then using this power to influence government.
Today they are influencing Confederate monument destruction. Those arrested in Durham were reportedly Communist party members.
We can all agree slavery was a sin. That sin actually still exists. Today human trafficking, according to the United Nations, enslaves millions worldwide.
The Republican Party was formed to end slavery. After all, the Union was mostly Republican and the Confederacy was mostly Democrat. But that’s another story.
Charles Krauthammer opined that Confederate symbols should be examined individually. Each monument has a different history and context.
For example, at Arlington there is a memorial to Confederate dead placed by the Union as a tribute to their fallen Confederate comrades as a symbol of reconciliation. But there are also statues erected 100 years later, not really as Civil War memorials, but resistance to civil rights. Each community must examine its record.
Robeson’s courthouse monument was one of the earlier monuments erected, in 1907, as a tribute to the dead after apparently raising funds for a decade. The Robesonian reported on May 13, 1907, that 7,000 people were in attendance, including 500 elderly Confederate veterans, to hear Gov. Robert Glenn dedicate it. Gov. Glenn testified against a lynch mob leader during his term, which was the first such conviction in North Carolina, so he wasn’t a typical Jim Crow Democrat.
A generic soldier tops inscriptions honoring dead soldiers. The inscribed Confederate flag appears on a broken staff, not a glorious one. “The Conquered Banner” poem was reportedly recited. According to author Louise Stevenson, who wrote about 1860-1880 Southern culture, the poem’s message was that the Confederate idea along with the flag was dead and should be put away forever. The governor added in his speech that the veterans “entered the war unwillingly.” The Robeson historical record doesn’t seem to glorify the confederacy but to exemplify the horror of the time.
Today, erecting tributes to local icons like Dr. E.B. Turner, Henry Berrie Lowrie and Julian Pierce are appropriate local examples of history that bring people together quicker than tearing things down. But again, each community must decide.
The problem isn’t if monuments should come down. The problem is where it stops. A Washington Duke statute sits on the East Campus of Duke University. He fought for the Confederacy. Are we going to rename Duke? In Oklahoma, they almost cut a cross off a campus chapel as some deemed it offensive.
Once these are gone what will they come for next? Will an LGBT group insist Martin Luther King monuments come down because he was against same-sex marriage? They will reject arguments based on moral equivalents once this is in motion. They conquer one group, then move on to another. That’s the real problem. But here’s the solution.
The S.C. Secessionist Party recently held a joint press conference with the Charleston Black Nationalists. Confederate flags on one side. Black Panther flags on the other. Men of opposing viewpoints stood together, admitting it may seem awkward, but they wanted to stand together.
The two groups drank a beer together the night before. President Obama would call it a “Beer Summit.” They agreed to disagree on ideologies. But they would respect each other and together ensure peace in Charleston.
In the spirit of pastor Niemoller, if outsiders come for one group, they will have to come for both. That’s really the American answer.
So extremists groups will leave Charleston alone, because their community refuses to be divided. It’s a lesson for all of us.