Historian explains Confederate symbolism, NC law protecting statues

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — As tensions are high following a deadly rally in Charlottesville Virginia over the weekend, we are getting some new insight about the statue that started the controversy.

A rally by white nationalists who oppose a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park turned deadly as protesters showed up and violence broke out Saturday.

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“It’s a shame that, you know, people with opposing views can’t just have their own views without coming to violent acts,” Wilmington resident Denise Worcester said.

UNCW Professor and Historian Chris Fonvielle said it is a fight about history that is starting to look like our history.

“Why are we no longer willing to accept opposing view points? Why are we willing to fight over them? You know what? This is the same kind of rhetoric we had in the lead up to the civil war.”



Fonvielle said Confederate statues hold different meanings for different people.

“For predominantly white southerners whose ancestors fought in the civil war, they represent their history,” Fonvielle said. “They may not see them as offensive symbols of racism.”

“Do you think they are racist?”
“I’m a historian, so I try to view it objectively and I had ancestors who fought for the confederacy,” Fonvielle said. “History is a very shared experience. Who gets to remember history, write history, commemorate history?”

While he does not think that history should be removed, he does think more should be added.

“Statues for African American activists for example,” Fonvielle said. “Statues to people who have a different viewpoint.”

No matter what viewpoint, all of that history is protected in North Carolina.

“The legislature a year ago passed a law that forbids removing a public statue without authorization from the legislature and the North Carolina Historical Commission,” Fonvielle said.

Fonvielle said it is a topic that could be a healthy discussion, but in Charlottesville it turned into what looked like a war.

“This was a very unAmerican way for Americans to show what they think America is or what America should be,” Fonvielle said.

Fonvielle said he and a city council member are working to put up a statue of Abraham Galloway. Galloway was an African American activist in North Carolina during the Civil War.