The North Carolina State Capitol sits on an area historically known as Union Square. This building once served as the home of the seat of government for North Carolina. The NC General Assembly left this building in 1961 but it still serves as the symbolic offices of the governor and lieutenant governor. Today, Union Square is a commemorative place to honor people connected to the history of the state and nation. Particularly, it has become the grounds to honor former presidents like Jackson, Polk, and Johnson who are connected to the state and for former governors, and war heroes. Although some of them have a more dubious history than others. The most controversial monuments by far are the Confederate Monuments at Union Square. Specifically, it is home to the North Carolina Confederate Soldiers Monument which stands 75 tall with a Confederate soldier atop and two 32-pound cannons on each side of the base. It is engraved with the motto, “First at Bethel and the last at Appomattox” on the rear base. The monument dedicated in 1895 is located at the intersection of S. Salisbury and Hillsborough streets. The Henry Lawson Wyatt statue was erected in 1912 to honor the first Confederate soldier to die in battle in June of 1861. The Wyatt statue is located on Union Square in the quadrant between Salisbury and Edenton streets. Finally the Monument to the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy is located on the Morgan Street side of Union Square directly across from the NC Court of Appeals. This monument depicts an older woman holding a book sitting next to a boy holding a sword. It is seven feet tall with plagues on each side illustrating soldiers going to war and coming back from war.
There has been renewed controversy over the last 10 years about the appropriateness of the Confederate monuments in public spaces. The mayor of New Orleans, Mitchell Landrieu, had the monuments removed in 2017. There was a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va, that caused death and violence that centered around a Confederate monument. In 2015, the NC General Assembly passed a law forbidding the removal of any Confederate monuments from public places. The question of removal of Confederate monuments must be answered with historical standards of first learning the conditions by which the statues came to be. The North Carolina Essential Standards for American History 2 addresses this search to answer this question. Clarifying Objectives AH2.H.2.1 and AH2.H.3.3 specifically encourage this exploration by asking students to examine the social turning points and the roles of minority groups in the U.S. History. They are: Analyze key political, economic, and social turning points since the end of Reconstruction in terms of causes and effects (e.g., conflicts, legislation, elections, innovations, leadership, movements, Supreme Court decisions, etc.). Explain the roles of various racial and ethnic groups in settlement and expansion since Reconstruction and the consequences for those groups (e.g., American Indians, African Americans, Chinese, Irish, Hispanics and Latino Americans, Asian Americans, etc.).
The North Carolina Confederate Soldiers Monument was not erected until 30 years after the Civil War ended and 17 years after Reconstruction came to an end. Its dedication was surrounded by controversy not consensus. Although this was a project initially sought by the North Carolina Monuments Association, it ultimately fell to the Democratic legislature to appropriate enough funds for its completion. In 1894, the Fusion party (Populists and Republicans) defeated the Democrats in the state legislature to regain control of the body. Initially, they soundly defeated more funding for the project. However, race baiting by the News and Observers and other media linking the Legislature’s recognition of the death of Federick Douglass and rejection of the funds to complete the monument. This race baiting inflamed the public and convince them that the entire “Anglo-Saxon civilization” was under siege and all “patriotic” men must defend it. Even though some continue to speak against the monument, enough legislators bowed to political pressure for the funding to pass. At the time, Alfred Waddell in his dedication speech stated that the war was not about slavery but that slavery was a right guaranteed by the U.S Constitution and the war was about upholding the Constitution. Clearly, even by his own admission, the war about slavery and therefore this monument was about the lost cause of slavery. The goal of the speech was to equate the justness of the cause of the American Revolution with the cause of the Confederacy. However the facts on this are indisputable. One war sought the creation of the Union and the other sought its destruction.
In the early twentieth century, the state of North Carolina went through a period of honoring the “common” Confederate soldiers. The honoring of the “common” Confederate soldiers climaxed with two works dedicated to Henry Lawson Wyatt. He was the first North Carolinian to die for the Confederate cause on June 10, 1861. On the fifty-first anniversary of his death, the United Daughters of the Confederacy unveiled a life-size statue of him on Union Square. It was sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, the carver of presidential likenesses on Mt. Rushmore. Its sculpting may be the most artistic on the entire square. It depicts emotions in his facial expression. His posture is unique among the monuments as he leans into the fight. Again, the circumstances around this monument may appear to be more uniform as there was not a political fight in the General Assembly. However, a closer examination would show that by this time, African Americans had been disenfranchised by the Jim Crow laws. And 63 people had been lynched by 1900 with 57 of those being African Americans. Therefore, the voices of those who would have objected was already silenced through death, terror, and intimidation.
Finally, the last monument dedicated to the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy was the wish and brainchild of Ashley Horne. Horne was a successful farmer and businessman. He had introduced several bills that were rejected to finance the monument. Horne aging and near the end of his life span decided that he would finance the monument. He wrote to the then Secretary of State, J. Bryan Grimes and used his influence and the fact that he had served under Grimes’ father at Appomattox. Although it would be dedicated on June 10, 1914, Horne would not live to see its dedication. It was dedicated with the usual fanfare. The clergy who gave the opening prayers were from North Carolina’s most celebrated Civil War regiments, the 4th and the 26th. The keynote was given by the son of the late Confederate Lieutenant General D. H. Hill and president of North Carolina College and Mechanic Arts (later NC State University), Daniel Harvey Hill. Hill went on to give a speech about the great sacrifices of the North Carolina women who supported the Confederacy. He ended with evangelical rhetoric about “her children rose up and called her blessed.” Despite the rhetoric and fanfare, time period is only two years after the Henry Lawson Wyatt monument dedication. Therefore, this also the time period of Jim Crow and racial violence against African Americans. In fact, the Wilmington Race Riot which established North Carolina as state dominated by white supremacy had only occurred 16 years earlier. Therefore, in the end one must take into account the reasons why monuments were erected as well as the political, social, and cultural events that surround their being built.