Rev. Billy Graham, only the fourth private citizen to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, received in death the stagecraft and ceremony reserved for fallen presidents, the Lincolns and Kennedys of American life.
To those he saved, Graham was on their level, an icon, “America’s Pastor,” a gospel crusader, the son of a farmer from Charlotte, who rose in life to witness Christ in the Oval Office and read Scripture at inaugurals.
Billboards across the South (“Gone Home: 1918-2018”) mourned nearly a century of Graham’s influence on evangelical Christianity and the world at-large. Debate over whether Graham’s casket in the Rotunda crossed the line of church and state felt irrelevant. Graham was a good and decent man and a figure of bipartisan esteem.
In 2015, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill to build a statue of Graham inside the Capitol after he died, and on the same day the president and First Lady stood before his casket in Washington, Gov. Roy Cooper requested the implementation of that law.
Graham’s statue would replace that of Charles Brantley Aycock in Statuary Hall, which allows each state to display two statues honoring prominent figures.
Members of Statuary Hall are intended to represent the best of America, but they mostly represent the politics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Twelve celebrate men who served the Confederacy, and none are African-American.
For every George Washington, Daniel Webster, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Thomas Edison, Sacagawea, or Helen Keller, there’s an obscure Gilded Age governor or segregationist from the Old South. Robert E. Lee, Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis inappropriately adorn the government they chose to quit.
Without a famous Founding Father or Revolutionary War hero (Nathaniel Greene represents Rhode Island) to her name, North Carolina erected statues for Charles Aycock and Zebulon Vance on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and the State Capitol in Raleigh.
The original “Education Governor,” Aycock presided over the construction of nearly 3,000 schools during his 1901-1905 term. Zebulon B. Vance helped North Carolina rebuild after the Civil War. Both are responsible for North Carolina emerging as a giant of industry and commerce – but both also had a race problem.
Vance’s family owned slaves, and as colonel of the 26th North Carolina he took up arms against the United States. Despite advocating civil liberties as a wartime governor, he stood against civil rights thereafter.
Aycock engaged in the racist campaigns of 1898 and 1900; enabled the Red Shirts and their coup d’état against North Carolina’s Republican-Populist fusion government, and championed the white supremacist politics of the Democratic Party (the literacy test and grandfather clause) which disenfranchised African-Americans for half a century. And as governor, Aycock delivered “The Negro Problem” speech:
“I am proud of my State…because there we have solved the negro problem…We have taken him out of politics and have thereby secured good government…I am inclined to give to you our solution of this problem. It is, first, as far as possible under the Fifteenth Amendment to disfranchise him…These things are not said in enmity to the negro but in regard for him…there flows in my veins the blood of the dominant race; that race that has conquered the earth…When the negro recognizes this fact we shall have peace…”
Decades from now Americans will be judged by issues we’re only beginning to understand, but slavery and segregation were well understood during the eras of Vance and Aycock. Those men chose the wrong side of history.
The public square is not the private cemetery. Public memorials should represent our highest ideals.
There’s a difference between Washington, Jefferson and Madison (slave owners who gave us the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a country amenable to a more perfect union) and those whose treachery was their greatest achievement (Jefferson Davis).
There will be hard conversations to come, tough distinctions and balancing tests to judge sins against accomplishments. But it’s the 21st Century. America is a multiracial and multiethnic state (the American experiment is to make that work) and it’s time to let go of the Lost Cause.
As the North Carolina Historical Commission’s Confederate Monuments Study Committee decides in April whether to move three statues (the Confederate Women’s Monument, Confederate Soldiers Monument, and the Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument) from the State Capitol to the Bentonville battlefield, North Carolinians should broaden the conversation to include Vance and Aycock statues in Raleigh and Vance in Washington – and how to decide who gets honored going forward.
Vance has stood in Statuary Hall for over a century and Vance and Aycock are no longer the noblest figures to show tourists and schoolchildren. Neither are the iconic statues of Presidents Jackson, Polk and Johnson, who left North Carolina to earn fame and infamy representing Tennessee.
The North Carolina Democratic Party dropped “Vance-Aycock” from its annual western fundraiser in 2011. Duke, East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro have removed Aycock’s name from dorms and auditoriums.
At this point, the removal of the Vance and Aycock statues, Silent Sam at UNC-Chapel Hill and Confederate monuments at the State Capitol is merely a question of when.
But to guard against protests and vandalism, North Carolina should be proactive: making the process open and respectful, but moving Confederate (and white supremacist) statues from public squares to cemeteries, battlefields and birthplaces – where they are left to history.
Citizens should ask the Historical Commission to advocate new statues — monuments celebrating North Carolina’s image as a leader of the New South — and there should be something for everyone.
Rev. Billy Graham is an improvement over Aycock, and it’s time for Vance to come home.
North Carolina’s greatest contributions to the United States came in the years after Vance and Aycock, it’s time we honored those too.
We should all want new monuments. Here are some ideas.
Maya Angelou – legendary poet and author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970); singer, dancer, actress, composer, and director; civil rights advocate; Wake Forest professor; and longtime resident of Winston-Salem; she read poetry at Clinton’s inauguration, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and she’d be perfect to accompany Rev. Graham in the Capitol.
Frank Porter Graham – U.S. Senator, United Nations mediator and the first president of the UNC system; Graham championed academic independence and the freedom to lean and publish without interference; his refusal to engage in racist politics cost him the senate seat; but few North Carolinians stood for higher principles when they were unpopular.
The Greensboro Four – David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), and Joe McNeil, students from North Carolina A&T State University, sat-in at a Woolworth’s lunch-counter on February 1, 1960 and started a national movement against segregation. Their statue stands on the campus of A&T but they also deserve a place at our State Capitol.
William Woods Holden – 38th and 40th Governor of North Carolina; he broke with Vance during the Civil War over making peace with the Union; supported the rights of newly freed slaves after the war; called out the militia to protect citizens from the Ku Klux Klan, and for those actions was the first governor in American history to be impeached and removed from office; he deserves rehabilitation, and today’s Republicans should lead that effort.
Abraham Galloway – former slave, Union spy, abolitionist, black suffragist, state Senator; his unique story (accomplished before he died at the age of 33) deserves greater memorial across North Carolina.
John Adams Hyman, Henry P. Cheatham and George Henry White – U.S. Congressmen; former slaves who represented their state in Congress; advocated for civil rights; largely forgotten by the history books when Reconstruction failed and African-Americans were disenfranchised; perfect figures to be remembered today.
Eva Clayton – U.S. Congresswoman; the first African-American to represent North Carolina in nearly a century; her figure would be an inspired choice to represent North Carolina in Congress again.
Julius Chambers – Director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; civil rights attorney; graduate of North Carolina Central University and editor-in-chief of law review and UNC Law; survived fire bombings and successfully argued Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court; would be a fitting monument in Statuary Hall or in Raleigh.
Terry Sanford – governor and U.S. Senator; created the North Carolina Fund; established the Good Neighbor Council to overcome discrimination issues; strong advocate for public education; as much as any North Carolinian he deserves as lasting place in history.
Harvey Gantt – Mayor of Charlotte, first African-American student to attend Clemson University; twice a candidate for U.S. Senate; it’d be poetic justice for Gantt to finally take his place in Congress.
Civil rights leaders: Ella Baker, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Anna Julia Cooper, James Harris, John Larkins, Anna Pauline Murray, Joseph Price, Elreta Melton Alexander, James Shepard, John Wheeler, Floyd McKissick.
Elsie Riddick – female suffragist and advocate for women’s rights; president of the North Carolina League of Women Voters.
Ella May Wiggins – union organizer and textile worker; a “songstress of the millworkers,” Wiggins is “North Carolina’s most famous folk heroine.”
Other women: Lillian Exum Clement, Mary Semans, Katie Dorsett (the first African-American woman to hold a North Carolina cabinet post), Ruth Dial Woods, Elizabeth Dole, Eliza Jane Pratt, Marie Colton.
Artists/Athletes/Writers: Andy Griffith, Sugar Ray Leonard, Charles Kuralt, Edward R. Murrow, James Taylor, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Ben E. King, Del McCoury, Thelonious Monk, John Hope Franklin, Thomas Wolfe, John Coltrane, David Thompson, Michael Jordan, etc…
A statue of NASCAR drivers (Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) or college basketball coaches (Dean Smith, Coach K and Jimmy V) would make the replacement of Confederate monuments more acceptable to rural whites; while displaying our proudest victories. And there was no more talented North Carolinian than Nina Simone. Her presence at the State Capitol would do wonders for our tourism.
The Confederate Monuments Study Committee will hold a public hearing on March 21 in the North Carolina State Archives building. And as North Carolina joins other states and cities in bringing down the Old South, it’s time to talk about who goes up next.
Michael Cooper is an attorney and writer in the foothills of North Carolina.