There are more than 230 memorials to the Civil War in North Carolina, and just before lunchtime on Tuesday, an elderly man in a cowboy hat stood at the foot of what remained of one of them in Durham.
“I don’t care how you feel about what is going on,” bellowed the man, who would give his name only as Gary. “I refuse to allow socialists and rabble-rousers to come in here and vandalize this town.”
Some passers-by wondered if it was a stunt. Gary is African-American, and the statue he was defending, which had been pulled from its pedestal by protesters eighteen hours earlier, honored the memory of Confederate soldiers—who fought for “enslavement and murder and the right to hold slaves,” as Rann Baron, a bearded Duke University mathematics professor who stood nearby, chided him.
That didn’t go over well either. “You’re ignorant,” retorted another passerby, who cradled his toddler son and wore a black T-shirt with a Confederate flag advertising the Sons of Confederate Veterans, retorted in a thick Eastern Carolina drawl. “The Civil War was about states’ rights. You can spout your false narrative all you want. You do not know what you’re talking about.”
It was a tense day in Durham. After a white nationalist protest over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, about three hours north, turned violent, leaving one woman dead, a group of Bull City activists gathered by a statue of a young Confederate soldier outside the former courthouse. Using a thick yellow cord, they uprooted the statue. Video of the moment went viral on Twitter, and one protester, a 22-year-old student at the historically black North Carolina Central University, now faces felony charges.