Commentary: The General Assembly protects symbols of a pro-slavery, white supremacist, segregationist past more than people

Commentary: The General Assembly protects symbols of a pro-slavery, white supremacist, segregationist past more than people
July 30
00:00 2015

In above photo: One of many Confederate statues and Confederate NC license plates

William J. Barber, Guest Columnist

Last night [July 23], Gov. Pat McCrory signed the “Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act,” which prevents local officials from removing Confederate monuments and gives that authority to the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor.

This morning [July 24], the N.C. NAACP and Forward Together Moral Movement challenged Governor McCrory and the General Assembly’s decision to prioritize the protection of Confederate monuments over the protection of North Carolinians. [There also was talk about a possible boycott of North Carolina.]

N.C. NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II’s statement is below:

Let us not forget what these symbols are really about because symbols have tremendous power.

We sometimes forget that in North Carolina’s history, in the late 1890s, when they spread propaganda about what would be the Wilmington Riots, many whites could not read, so they used symbols.

One of those symbols would be a black man or politician looking like a vampire holding two white women in his claws and someone coming along with a Confederate flag and rescuing the white women.

The symbols were more than just cartoons.

And after the promise of Reconstruction, one writer has said, whites could not re-enslave blacks.

But what they could do was raise a likeness of the peculiar institution’s symbols to remind them of their (former slaves’ and their descendants’) ‘proper place’ in the South.

These memorials reinforced racial inequality in the past.

That’s why in a lot of places, when you travel around the state, the memorials are right in front of the courthouses.

They were there to remind black people, as they went into those courtrooms, that Jim Crow is still king; that you are in a state that still does not want you; that you better stay in your place.

They were meant to elicit fear.

Today, the General Assembly is more committed to protecting monuments – some of which have the Confederate flag engraved on them – symbols of a pro-slavery, white supremacist, segregationist past than they are to protecting people who are living right now.

The governor is so weak that he would rather placate those with this divisive and extremist agenda than stand up and demand that North Carolina politics come into the 21st century.

Governor, the truth is, if you do not believe you can stop the selling of license plates with Confederate flags, why not put one on the back of the Governor’s car?

To the Governor and the legislature: Why protect monuments when you haven’t protected the 500,000 people who need Medicaid expansion and the thousands of people who are dying?

Why protect Confederate monuments when you haven’t ensured proper raises for teachers and funding for public education and teacher assistance?

Why are you protecting monuments – and Confederate monuments, at that — when you have not protected the 900,000 people whose Earned Income Tax Credit you took?

Why are you protecting monuments – particularly Confederate monuments – when you have not raised wages to a living wage for the working poor throughout North Carolina?

Why are you protecting monuments – particularly Confederate monuments – when you have not repealed the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, when we live in a state that has had more black men found innocent who would have been killed on death row, than any other Southern state?

And yet, instead of dealing with that injustice in our criminal justice system, just yesterday we received a rush to restart the death penalty – when just last month, Governor, you pardoned a man who would have been killed and who your party used in political literature to get elected.

You know the system is broken, but you’re more interested in protecting monuments than you are in protecting justice.

You’re more interested in protecting monuments to the Confederacy than you are in signing the racial profiling bill that has been sitting in the legislature – a bill that would begin to deal with the reality of the disparities in the criminal justice system and in policing that impact black and brown people.

And less than a month after Charleston, the Governor and the General Assembly in North Carolina are more interested in protecting the symbols of an infamous, racist past than in addressing the issues of our present.

Once again, North Carolina is first.

We used to be first in flight.

We used to be first in the best university system in the South.

We used to be first in technology with the Research Triangle Park.

Now, after the June 25, 2013 Shelby ruling, North Carolina passed the first and the worst voter suppression bill.

Our state is more committed to protecting symbols of a racist past than it is to protecting voting rights in the present.

Now, we are the first after Charleston to say, “We want to protect Confederate monuments, even with Confederate flags on them.”

And they’re so committed to this that the party that is always arguing about local control is now taking power from local authorities.

Here is one more question: Where are the monuments to the real heroes and the real sheroes of our past?

Where are the monuments to the slaves who endured the ugly horrors of slavery?

Where is the monument to the black and white fusion politicians, who after slavery rewrote our Constitution and stood against the Klan, and fought to break the grip of systemic racism?

Where are the monuments to Ella Baker?

Where are the monuments to those who desegregated the lunch counters and the students from Bennett and Winston-Salem State?

Where are the monuments to the Freedom Riders, who first came through North Carolina before they went anywhere else in the South?

Where are the monuments to those who risked their life and limb?

Where are the monuments to the lawyers who had their cars blown up while trying to make this state more perfect?

It is so backwards, so wrong, so pitiful that this is the focus of a legislature and a governor in the 21st century and every North Carolinian ought to be ashamed!

So, what are we going to do?

*We call on the governor to talk to the best lawyers and see if there is any way his can undo his signature on this bill. We still believe in repentance.

You do not want to go down in history as the governor who signed the first bill after Charleston to protect the symbols of racism and division.

*Second, Governor, ask your lawyers if you have the authority to remove the Confederate flag from state license plates. If you cannot, write a bill to have it removed!

*Third, we call on all of the legislators who were against this bill that just passed yesterday to write a Truth Bill, demanding that if these monuments are going to stay up, we now have to write some Truth plaques that are placed on these monuments that tell exactly when, and why, and in what context they were erected.

It’s important that we recognize that we, in North Carolina, have a political problem.

Don’t spend your time painting on these monuments.

Spend that time registering people to vote.

Register everybody you know to vote, because everybody who is doing this has been elected!

I won’t tell you who to vote for, but we sure will tell on them and tell you what they voted for so you can make a conscious decision.

We have already been getting calls from our branches asking us to take up, at our convention in October, the possible call of a boycott of North Carolina.

That is a decision for members to make – it’s not a lone decision.

But some of members are already saying, South Carolina was boycotted for 15 years.

If our legislature and our governor are going to be more interested in protecting symbols of a racist past than they are in protecting education, healthcare, living wages, justice in the criminal justice system, there are members of the NAACP who want to have that conversation and we’re going to have it at our state convention in October.

The Governor and General Assembly need to know – if they do not already – what kind of sentiment they start unleashing when they pass these bills.

It gives signals to certain people.

Long before Dylann Roof killed anybody, South Carolina legislators were talking about secession in committee.

The flag that flew over the Capitol gave a certain license.

That’s why Dr. King said, when he preached at the funeral of the four girls who were blown up in the Birmingham church, that every politician who has fed their constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism is part of the reason why these four girls are dead.

We received this message from someone who claimed to live in North Carolina on July 21, with the subject “flags, monuments, etc.” (We have redacted the sender’s name and email address): See message under photos above.

This, Governor and legislature, is what you are unleashing. That flag does not represent honor – it represents dishonor. It represents – and always has represented – the protection of white supremacy.

Which side are you on, Governor?

Which side are you on, legislature?

If your continuous stirring of the stench of the past causes this kind of racist sentiment, you will be held accountable.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber is president of the N.C. NAACP, which is based in Durham.

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