Ongoing: The Everyday Work of Facing a Racist History

In my experience, the work of overcoming racism and its sordid history has many aspects, and can be pursued in many ways. Some are loud and disruptive. Others are calmly persuasive. Different strokes for different folks.

Here I want to pay tribute to a current worker, a friend of mine, and fellow  Quaker, Ron Osborne. On August 17, he appeared at the meeting of the Alamance County board of Commissioners, to do one small piece of this work, namely moving the tall Confederate monument from its longtime site in front of the old county courthouse in downtown Graham, the county seat.

Outside the building there were some noisy protesters, who could be heard in the background. Ron spoke quietly but clearly,  The Commission sets aside up to 30 minutes for general public comments, in 3-minute segments. Ron made his three minutes count.

The Commission at this point has taken no steps toward moving the monument. But this work continues.


Ron Osborne, at the podium, speaking to the Alamance County Commission, August 17, 2020.

Ronald Osborne: I have lived in North Carolina all my life and in Alamance County for over 35 years.

My family first settled in North Carolina in the 1660s. Part of my property has been continuously owned by my family since the 1750s. My direct ancestor was a neighbor and acquaintance of the Regulator Herman Husband. Their names even appear together on some deeds. Another ancestor made muskets used at [the 1781 Revolutionary War Battle of] Guilford Courthouse [in Greensboro].

Confederate monument, Graham, Alamance County, NC

My grandfather’s grandfather fought for the Confederacy, was captured at the Battle of Chancellorsville and wounded at Spotsylvania. My grandmother’s great grandfather fought at the Battles of New Bern and Kinston.

My wife’s grandmother’s great uncle was killed at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg. Our ancestors were also involved in other battles, including Gettysburg.

I share these scraps of family background to convey to you that I have a deep appreciation and awareness of History. My sons and I are Civil War reenactors, and I’m familiar with the inscription on the Court Square monument which appears to pay homage to those, like my ancestors, who served in the Confederacy.

A yard sign that has appeared in several places in Alamance County.

I must tell you that the simple presence of this statue in the courthouse square, a place which should promote and guarantee justice for all, which should be a place which represents all citizens equally, is as much a divisive symbol of the injustices inflicted on many of our citizens, as it is a reminder of any gallantry and sacrifices of my, and perhaps your, ancestors.

History tells us that those who dedicated this monument were the very citizens who lynched Officer Wyatt Outlaw in the same square. They enshrined this statue not just as a memorial, but as a veiled threat, set in stone, to all people of color to know and keep their places as second-class citizens.

You, our elected leaders have been confronted with a choice: Do you accept as your legacy the defense of a symbol of our checkered history, where both you and our county are known for refusing to acknowledge our known shortcomings of the past? Or do you embrace this opportunity to seek our community’s redemption, to improve our reputation, improve our economy, and demonstrate that we are a county welcoming and fair to all?

Move the statue away from our house that aspires to Justice. Demonstrate that “blue lives as well as black lives matter by memorializing the travesty our community visited upon Officer Wyatt Outlaw and other citizens of color. Be known through posterity as the leaders who embraced an opportunity for positive change. For if you don’t, future leaders surely will, robbing you of this momentous honor that could have been yours.

Seen not far from downtown Graham.

One thought on “Ongoing: The Everyday Work of Facing a Racist History”

  1. I empathise with Ron Osborne’s comments. Two of my cousins grew up in Alamance County. My parents and their ancestors lived in Orange County Virginia, the northern part of which is the Wilderness battlefield. My great grandfather, and other relatives wore Confederate uniforms. Some were part of the Montpelier Militia who escorted John Brown from Harper’s Ferry to a Virginia military camp. John Brown was arrested for treason to Virginia, which included Harper’s Ferry before the Civil War.

    Yet, I oppose monuments to Confederate soldiers who were part of the enslavement and mistreatment of African Americans. Over 150 years later it is time to put away symbols of slavery, especially on the grounds of court houses and government property. Lets embrace the sensibilities of all Americans.

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