For most of my life I didn’t know Confederate statues could come down.
Throughout my childhood, those equestrian statues of victory, obelisks, and granite figures of soldiers were as immovable and immutable as the hills and the lakes. Other symbols of the South as it was before 1865 were also part of the fabric of reality. Old battle flags were inevitabilities, waving in the wind. Plantations might as well have been wonders of the world, and old battlefields holy places. Part of living in the South, just as much as eating and breathing were, was partaking in a perpetual reenactment.
In my hometown of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, we have our own little shrine to the Confederacy. The Nash County Confederate Monument is a column with one soldier standing atop its apex, surrounded by four shorter empty columns.The base is engraved with two rifles crossed.
According to the inscription on its base, the monument is dedicated:
To the Confederate soldiers of Nash County who in 1861, in obedience to the summons of their state, freely offered their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on behalf of the cause of Constitutional liberty and self-government, and through four years of war so bore themselves in victory and defeat, as to win the plaudits of the world, and set an example of exalted and unseen patriotism, which will ever be an unfailing inspiration to all future generations of American citizens.
I witnessed that statue just about every day. I ran past it during track practice, down a path that took me between Stonewall Manor, an old plantation, and Rocky Mount Mills, one of the earliest cotton mills in the state of North Carolina—and thus one of the earliest cotton mills operated by enslaved persons in the state of North Carolina. It rarely—but not never—occurred to my younger self that, as a descendant of persons just like those, I built my body in a trinity of places built upon the brokenness of theirs. Again, the monuments to a world past seemed like landmarks, as much a part of my surroundings as the pine trees and the Tar River into which they once bled.