Q: “Sir, would you like a history of this monument?” A: “F**k You!”Historians in the News
tags: Historians for a Better Future
Historians for a Better Future planned to encounter many personalities along the sidewalk when we set up in front of the Women of the Confederacy monument at the State Capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina, on September 8, 2017. During our Free History Lesson, we stood holding banners connecting the monument to white supremacy and passing out histories. When one of our educators approached a passerby with an offer of a free historical brochure, he received a decided “F**k you.” But other educators reported finding common ground with most individuals, and some pedestrians expressed encouragement. Motorists used horns and hand gestures to express disappointment or support for our work. Such a range of responses not only indicate the charged climate for public dialogue about history, but also how, in this volatile time, education looks very much like protest.
Ninety monuments memorialize the Confederacy in North Carolina, most built between 1890 and 1920 as the state enacted Jim Crow laws and cemented white supremacy into the physical landscape. In July 2015, as debate over Confederate iconography increased after the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act, which severely limited the circumstances in which Confederate monuments and memorials could be removed or relocated. The law gave the North Carolina Historical Commission sole authority over removing, relocating, or altering all monuments, memorials, and works of art owned by the state, and required that communities and public universities acquire state approval before removing or even altering monuments. The law also prohibits the removal of objects of remembrance “to a museum, cemetery, or mausoleum unless it was originally placed at such a location.”
Following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in September 2017 North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper petitioned the Historical Commission to remove three Confederate monuments currently on the Capitol Grounds in Raleigh to Bentonville Battlefield, a state-owned historic site fifty miles south of the city. At their September meeting, the Commission delayed deciding upon Cooper’s request, unsure what authority the law provides them.
Created by public historians in Raleigh in early 2017, Historians for a Better Future addresses these issues through a series of programs to share historians’ research connecting Confederate monuments to white supremacy. Our Free History Lessons operate on several different levels. We draw on the decorative style of World War I “Silent Sentinels” protests by suffragettes, which is reminiscent of the same time period these monuments were erected, but also subtly argues that, like these women, historians can and should enter the public sphere. ...
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