ActivePaper Archive A common Southern story - Burlington Times News, 10/15/2017

A common Southern story

Many motivations — history, culture, racial intimidation — went into Alamance County’s Confederate monument
By Isaac Groves


The Alamance County Confederate Monument in downtown Graham was dedicated in 1914 to honor the 1,100 Confederate soldiers in the Civil War from Alamance County. [STEVEN MANTILLA/TIMES-NEWS]


Alamance County’s Confederate monument was put up in 1914, nine years before the old courthouse building was replaced with the current courthouse. [TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO]


The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office has been stationed at the historic courthouse and Confederate monument in downtown Graham after threats were made on Aug.14.


Like Civil War monuments all over the South and around the country, the monument to Confederate veterans in Graham’s Court Square became a flashpoint since 2015 — about 101 years after it was dedicated.

According to local historian Walter Boyd, the Alamance County chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the monument in 1914, the culmination of five years of fundraising.

The Spanish-American War — “Remember the Maine” — started and ended in 1898, 33 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War. As different as those wars were, Boyd said, America’s quick victory got Southerners thinking about the generation that had fought the Civil War. The youngest of those veterans were well into middle age while the older veterans — including many officers — were dying.

Their children wanted to mark their passing.

“They said, ‘My gosh, we ought to honor them,’” Boyd said.

Alamance was far from the only county in the South with the idea. More than one company made and sold the monuments, but the statue in Graham of a Confederate soldier standing at parade rest came from a company in Marietta, Ga.

“They churned them out by the dozen,” Boyd said. “Just about every courthouse in the South has one.”

This one cost something like $2,200. The county donated $1,000, Boyd said, and the UDC raised the rest.

‘The era of Jim Crow’

Critics make a lot of when t h e s e m o n u m e n t s w e r e erected. The early 20th century was an intensely racist period in America — what Charles Irons, chair of the Elon University Department of History and Geography, calls the lowest point in America’s racial politics. It was also when a lot of statues honoring Confederate soldiers in general and notable leaders in particular went up.

“This is a time of lynchings and KKK proliferation, intimidation absolutely,” Alamance County Commissioner Bob Byrd said at a board meeting Sept. 5. “This was the era of Jim Crow.”

There was another boom in Confederate monuments in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement.

“So some historical pride, but also intimidation, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Barrett Brown, president of the Alamance NAACP.

In the years right after the war, many historians say, Americans focused on reconciliation, but Boyd said there was an appetite to memorialize the Confederate dead.

“Right after the war, people wanted to put up statues,” Boyd said. “The Union authorities who were ruling the South until about 1886 said ‘no.’”

So after the restraints of Reconstruction were lifted, statues were going up all over the South.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other, though. White supremacy was certainly part of the dedication of the monument in 1914.

According to the May 28, 1914, edition of the Alamance Gleaner, Col. Jacob A. Long introduced the keynote speaker at the dedication of the monument. According to NCpedia, Long also was a founder of the local Ku Klux Klan — which Boyd said was called the White Brotherhood — and was charged as an accessory in the lynching of black business leader, Union veteran, politician and constable Wyatt Outlaw in 1870. Charges were dismissed in 1871.

“We all have a common interest: to recall the achievements of the great and good of our own race and blood,” Long said in his introduction, according to the Gleaner.

Time capsule

It’s been 103 years, but there are still personal connections to the monument’s dedication. Boyd said late Elon professor Durward Turrentine Stokes — son of a cavalry officer — told him about putting the box in the base of the monument outside the courthouse in 1914 when he was about 8. The box is supposed to be a time capsule with the names of 1,100 Alamance County Confederate veterans, and memorabilia from the war and the Confederacy.

That dedication of the monument was well attended, but secession and the Civil War were, of course, very controversial in North Carolina and especially in Alamance County.

“Alamance County voted against secession,” Boyd said. “There was a strong Unionist sentiment in Alamance County.”

A white man named Pete Sellers who owned a saloon in Burlington left to join the Union army. Outlaw escaped slavery to join the Union, while another black man, Jerry Sellers, served in the Confederacy, Boyd said. And recruitment was slow.

“People didn’t rush to volunteer around here,” Boyd said.

In 1862, the Confederacy started drafting soldiers, which was very unpopular, especially since men who owned 20 or more slaves could get deferments.

“All my grandfathers who served were drafted, and they were very much against it,” Boyd said. “They honored those who served because they served involuntarily.”

Reporter Isaac Groves can be reached at igroves@ or 336-506-3045. Follow him on Twitter at @tnigroves.