I sent a letter today to the editor of The Franklin Times in Louisburg, NC with an offer of $10,000 to help fund the move of a Confederate monument there to a local cemetery (full text below this post). I say “my” Confederate monument in the headline of this post because the monument is in memory of Franklin County’s soldiers, and they are my ancestors. While the monument is shared by many, the monument is just as much mine as anyone else’s.
Most of the people who read this blog probably have never heard of The Franklin Times or Louisburg. It’s the county seat of Franklin County, North Carolina which is where both of my parents grew up, where I visited my grandparents’ farm a lot as a child, and where my annual family reunion is held. Both sides of my family go back to pre-Revolutionary War times there. In the Civil War, all of my relatives fought for the Confederacy, and with multiple casualties: my great-great-grandfather James Martin Dickerson (wounded at Gettysburg), great-great-grandfather James Dallas Pearce (wounded at Cold Harbor, VA), and 4th-great uncle Solomon Pearce (killed at Sharpsburg/Antietam). Solomon’s father Nathan — my 4th-great-grandfather who shares my grandfather’s name — and his son Acrel owned six slaves according to the 1850 slave census.
All of this is why I took a special interest two years ago when I read a story in the Raleigh, NC News & Observer (where I had my first job) about Will Hinton’s proposal to move the monument (“A Confederate statue. A mostly black college. And simmering small-town resentment.”)
Will Hinton had a simple proposal: move the divisive monument from its downtown location at the college to a local cemetery and replace it with a flagpole bearing an American flag that would represent everyone. Hinton was an unlikely agitator — a pickup-driving white man who had deep roots in the county. His grandmother and mother were born there and his great-great-grandfather had actually donated the land for the local cemetery (Oakwood) where many of the Confederate dead were buried. To make his case, he delivered a remarkable guest sermon at his church (“White Male Privilege“) and wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper (“Thoughts on Our Monument“). As the News & Observer story notes, some folks in town who had known Hinton for decades turned their backs on him for speaking out. I was really moved by his conviction, tracked him down, and sent him a message of support. We talked on the phone shortly after. Ultimately, nothing happened, though. The painful monument remained. Time passed.
While I was quarantined in North Carolina several weeks ago just after my father’s death, the passing of generations weighed on my mind. It was an unusually heavy time, with George Floyd’s murder coming just days after I had sat by my father’s bed as he passed. The Bible verses of my youth were suddenly present in my mind during those days and I thought of the beautiful writing of Ecclesiastes 3:
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
While I was in North Carolina, I made a special trip to see the Confederate monument (the photo with this blog post is one I took that day). With the passing of a generation in my father’s death and all of the pain of George Floyd’s death, I felt the need to stand in front of that monument and say goodbye to that part of my family’s collective past. A time to lose. A time to cast away.
I eventually made my way back to Brooklyn but I thought about that monument every day as monuments around the country have been coming down. This week, the Louisburg Town Council voted 4-3 to move the monument in an emergency Zoom meeting. When I visited the monument just weeks ago, I didn’t expect it to be gone so soon after over 100 years in its current place. The plan that was approved was more or less the plan that Will Hinton had proposed two years ago. In today’s News & Observer, Will was interviewed and said, “It’s not a time for a victory lap. It’s time to slowly, humbly, calmly walk hand in hand.” Will was right, but was taking the path of righteousness (in the most positive Biblical sense).
I sent the letter below to the editor of The Franklin Times applauding the vote and offered $10,000 towards moving the monument as a tribute to the conviction of Will Hinton (A time to speak). As I say in the letter, “I believe we honor the memories of our ancestors by doing what is right today” and after a lot of reflection on the present and deep study of my past, I want to do what I can to bring forth that change. It’s time for all of us to turn the page and face the future.
The letter was published on July 2, 2020 so I moved the text of the letter to a separate post.