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3 Hole Punch: Cooter reacts to last week's newsletter
The former Dukes of Hazzard star turned Democratic congressman was one of several people who wrote in about my story about North Carolina's white supremacist statues in the U.S. Capitol.
First off, thanks to everyone who read last week’s story about the statues of white supremacists that represent North Carolina in the U.S. Capitol. A lot of you had a lot of comments about it, but I want to highlight three very different responses.
Why's it taking so long to get rid of North Carolina's white supremacist statues at the U.S. Capitol?
First up, Rabbit Hole subscriber Will Damron, Ph.D. points out a mistake I made:
I noticed a mistake in your recent article about the Vance and Aycock statues about something that is one of my pet peeves, so I thought I’d send an email.
You describe the grandfather clause as “if your grandfather didn’t have the right to vote, neither did you”, but the clause worked a bit differently. NC’s disenfranchise amendment had two main parts: voters had to pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax. The grandfather clause provided an exception - if your grandfather had been able to vote, you didn’t have to pass a literacy test. Otherwise, a literacy test would have also disenfranchised many white voters who could not read. (More details here: https://www.ncpedia.org/grandfather-clause). So the grandfather clause was part of disenfranchising Black voters in NC, but voters weren’t directly disenfranchised by the grandfather clause itself.
Anyway, I’m a huge fan! I hope this email isn’t annoying.
It’s not annoying! It’s enlightening, and I try to make sure I let you all know when I get something wrong. I regret the error.
Next up, this one from subscriber Doug Gillis:
Zebulon Baird Vance was my 2nd cousin four generations removed. I knew that his family and he owned enslaved people. I did not know his rhetoric and opinions about them were so vile and egregious. I attended Josephus Daniels High School in Raleigh in the early 1960's. I learned about Daniels involvement in the 1898 Wilmington Massacre in the late 1990's. Josephus Daniels High School is located on Oberlin Road. The school was renamed Oberlin Middle School after Oberlin Village, established in 1866 by James E. Harris, a former enslaved person of Duncan Cameron. James E. Harris named the village after his alma mater, Oberlin College. Cameron Village shopping center and residential area is located nearby.
The state agency managing NC State Historic Sites is trying to provide a fuller history at places it manages such as the Vance Birthplace on Reems Creek Road in Buncombe County. The Polk Birthplace in Pineville is working on providing fuller information about James K. Polk, his and his family's ownership of enslaved people, and his owning a plantation in Mississippi where he sent enslaved children and adults he had purchased while President.
Thanks for the article. I have seen the site of the dismantled Vance Monument at Pack Square in Asheville. I look forward to it becoming a more purposeful site than it previously served.
For what it’s worth, Charles Aycock’s birthplace near Goldsboro is also a state historic site, but its website (at least at this point) doesn’t mention his ties to white supremacy.
Finally, I got the following response from now-former Rabbit Hole subscriber Ben Jones:
Please cancel my subscription immediately. This thinking is simply idiotic. Judging the past by the present is an absurd undertaking. It is called "presentism" and it is a "fool's errand". It might make you feel enlightened, but it pisses me off!
Life Member of NAACP
Civil Rights Worker
and Former Democratic Congressman
If the author’s name rings a bell, it’s because he’s probably best known for playing the mechanic Cooter Davenport on the original “The Dukes of Hazzard” TV show that ran for 7 seasons from 1979 until 1985. I did double-check the email address to verify that Jones, who does often refer to himself as “Cooter,” actually sent the email.
Jones was born in Tarboro and went to UNC. During his time in Chapel Hill, he was shot at by Klansmen after he went to an integrated party, was arrested at a sit-in, and had ammonia thrown in his eyes at a whites-only grocery store. He, notably, doesn’t see Southern pride and the Civil Rights Movement as incompatible. “I think Stonewall Jackson was a heroic figure,” he told the Washington Post in 2002. “I think Martin Luther King was the greatest man I ever met. I don't see any conflict in having those thoughts, frankly.” More recently, he declared that he didn’t see the Confederate Battle Flag as a racist symbol. That flag was painted on top of the “General Lee,” the Dodge Charger that the Duke boys drove in the TV show.
Anyhow, I asked Jones if I could publish his original email. He sent another one:
Help yourself. But I pulled the punches, sir. This kind of "historical revisionism" is appalling to the true historian. Events (and people) must be judged in the context of their times and circumstances. There are those of a similar mindset going about who wish to remove all evidence of men such as George Washington (largest slaveowner in Virginia at one time) and Thomas Jefferson (noted slaveowner) without whom we would simply have no American nation or government under which we could discuss such niceties.
The serious historian (and the serious writer) understands how the road of history and progress is made. It is not made by attacking a past in which those men and women were doing the best they could with the hand they were dealt.
As one who is descended both from the Confederacy and from those who suffered in slavery, I write as one who knows how this kind of thinking is setting back the hard-won gains of the Civil Rights Movement. It does not unite. It divides. And there is evidence that this sort of "cultural Marxism" is intended to divide. I would argue that this discussion is evidence of those unnecessary divisions.
Please feel free to print this response also.
Per his wishes, I did unsubscribe Cooter from this newsletter.