Fitzhugh Brundage is a UNC history professor who focuses on American history since the Civil War. His most recent research focuses on white and black historical memory in the South since the conflict. The Daily Tar Heel staff writer Audrey Wells spoke with Brundage on Confederate monuments in North Carolina.
The Daily Tar Heel: What are some of the more notable Civil War and Confederate monuments in your opinion?
Fitzhugh Brudange: There are two confederate memorials on the state capitol grounds, so that’s a very conspicuous spot. Silent Sam is obviously one of the most conspicuous in the state, both because it is so famous but also because of its location on the campus. The flagship university makes it very prominent. This is a state with almost no Civil War battle sites, unlike a state like Virginia or Tennessee, so we don’t have very many spaces in the state that are dense with monuments from the Civil War.
DTH: Are these monuments more historically crucial than the Confederate flag, especially with the debate around the Confederate flag in South Carolina?
FB: If the Confederate battle flag is taken down, it’s a very important political statement, a very important development, but, in terms of what I’ll call historical preservation, it doesn’t make any difference at all. Monuments, on the other hand, are artifacts which I have no issue with a majority of people in a community wanting to move a monument or remove a monument or to erect more monuments. But of course, I hope they will preserve the monument itself in some way because (it is) a historical artifact. It’s interesting who erected it, how they raised the money for it and what they erected it for. I would rather see it preserved than destroyed, but that’s separate and apart from removing it.
DTH: Do these monuments have any effect on the hate versus heritage debate?
FB: I think the monuments have become convenient touchstones for a much larger argument. The landscape of North Carolina is dotted with Confederate memorials and memorials to Confederate leaders. There is a dearth of monuments to women, African-Americans, Native Americans, to any of the significant minorities in this state. So I think the monuments become a very convenient symbol of the kind of exclusionary history that the creators of the monuments intentionally tried to create. If, somehow, some sort of racial utopia had emerged after the destruction of Jim Crow, I don’t think we would be having this debate at all. But in a society that is still ridden with race, these monuments are a symbol of some of those divides. We would be debating the same issues with different targets were there an absence of these monuments. I should add though, after the Charleston shootings, the symbols of the Confederacy have taken on a new, tainted heritage.
DTH: What is your opinion on the proposal in the N.C. House of Representatives to ban the removal of all historical monuments?
FB: I think it is a badly conceived effort that is a curious, dramatic, unprecedented expansion of state authority. The state legislature has shown virtually no interest in public art in this state ever. The state legislature didn’t fund these monuments, with few exceptions. Silent Sam was not funded by the state. It’s on state property, but it was donated. The state legislature has never been interested whether monuments have been moved in the past. So it’s a curious example of a conservative legislature exerting authority to control community decisions.
Here is a map of all the Confederate monuments in North Carolina: