Confederate statues: Lexington’s shameful graffiti. No context can whitewash the brutality they represen
BY DAVID ADKINS
The old courthouse, where statues of Confederate heroes now reside, was the site of so much pain — the brutal manifestation of our nation’s original sin.
Families were sold on the auction block, separated from each other, never to see one another again. Mothers and their infants were sold to separate bidders. Much of Lexington’s growth and wealth was built on slave labor.
One local advertisement of the era promoted the auction to be held on the courthouse steps for a “negro girl” between the age of 14 and 15. The same age my daughter, Nell, is now. I can’t begin to imagine the horror. A horror countenanced and encouraged under the authority of the city, county and state.
Many have tried to whitewash the history of this pernicious practice but the shadow and scars remain today. The disparities in the treatment of our citizens based on race and the inequalities which disproportionately impact communities of color diminish us all and we collectively share an obligation to pursue justice and healing.
John C. Breckinridge, the subject of one of the statues, is the only person to be convicted of treason by the U.S. Senate. Yet his likeness is literally put on a pedestal in the heart of our town, just blocks from where I live. Those who sought to honor his service by erecting a statue did us all a disservice. We should follow the lead of his fellow senators who voted to eject him from the Senate.
If Mayor Jim Gray truly wants to provide historical context to accompany the statue, he will have the word “traitor” boldly emblazoned on the statue’s pedestal and a noose and whip added to the sculpted hands.
Likewise, John Hunt Morgan, celebrated as the Confederate general on horseback, was a slavery-defending despot whose careless disregard as a military commander ended up getting hundreds of his troops unnecessarily killed. He is no one to hold up as a role model.
It is senseless to honor these men because to do so, regardless of any context provided, is to tacitly endorse their misdeeds and brutality in the cause of preserving slavery. The prominence and positioning of these statues was intentional. The propaganda they were intended to be cannot be explained away.
If Gray wants to provide meaningful historical context, let him commission a census to determine the names of all of the citizens of Lexington sold at Cheapside. Erect a monument in remembrance of those who suffered such unspeakable horrors, the unjust denial of their liberty and forced servitude.
In a community that remains distressingly segregated by race and with too many of our citizens denied the full measure of opportunity, we can no longer be blind to the fact that these statues are a stain on our community. Context, however artfully attempted, cannot adequately counter the thinly veiled, ignoble intentions from which these statues were born.
There is no honor in slavery and we need not conspire with the charlatans of the past who perpetuated these statues. We share no obligation to preserve their graffiti in a public space today.
The smokescreen offered by city officials that tax credits necessary to finance the renovations of the courthouse could be at risk were the statues to be removed is just that — a smokescreen of ambiguous speculation and convenience that smacks of the Jim Crow justifications of yesteryear.
The right thing to do can never appropriately be subject to the popular will of the people, Abraham Lincoln argued as much in his famous debates with Stephen Douglas. Enlightened leadership is what is now needed.
In time, Gray will come to regret overturning the recommendations of the panel he empowered to study this issue and whose thoughtful recommendations provided an appropriate course of action. Gov. Nikki Haley found a way to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse.
Unfortunately, it took a white supremacist systematically committing serial murders in a house of God to prompt such a long overdue gesture.
I wonder what it will take for Lexington to see the light and listen to our better angels?
David Adkins, an attorney, moved to Lexington seven years ago and lives downtown with his wife, Lisa, and daughter, Nell.
At issue: Feb.18 Herald-Leader article, “Confederate statues will remain in Lexington courthouse square”
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