How My Writing Deals with the Issue of Removing Confederacy Statues Across the United States
In 1930, the statue of Tommy Trojan was unveiled during the 50th Jubilee celebration of the University of Southern California, of which I am a proud alumnus. The sculptor used USC football players as “visual references” for the statue, which is a life-size bronze sculpture of a Trojan warrior and sits in the center of the campus. It is the unofficial mascot of the university. On the base is inscribed the five attributes of the ideal Trojan: “Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous and Ambitious.” On the reverse of the base is a plaque bearing a quote from Virgil: “Here are provided seats of meditative joy, where shall rise again the destined reign of Troy.”
There has never been any controversy over this statue, other than during the Vietnam War era, when briefly Tommy Trojan’s sword was removed and a gas mask placed over his face. For most people, the statue is the symbol of the university’s athletic prowess, especially in football. No one—as far as I know—has ever advocated removing Tommy Trojan.
In 1913, the statue nicknamed Silent Sam was unveiled by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the center of the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This bronze statue of a Confederate soldier was originally planned to be in place in 1911, for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. The plaque on the left side of the base says: “Erected under the auspices of the North Carolina division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy aided by the alumni of the university.” The plaque on the right side reads: “To the sons of the university who entered the War of 1861-65 in answer to the call of their country [the Confederate States of America] whose lives taught the lesson of their great commander [Robert E. Lee] that duty is the sublimest word in the English language.”
In August 2018, Silent Sam was pulled down by protesters, and it was removed to a “secure location” by university authorities. In justification of their actions, the protestors who toppled the statue cited the dedication speech given by Julian Carr, a UNC alumnus and trustee, and a former Confederate soldier, who “urged his audience to devote themselves to the maintenance of white supremacy with the same vigor that their Confederate ancestors had defended slavery.”
I grew up playing under the gaze and protection of a similar statue of a Confederate soldier in Ellwood Park in Amarillo, Texas. The statue was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1931, and still stands where it was originally placed. Until I came to California in 1971 and studied history at the University of Southern California, I had never given much thought to that statue, which stood guard over me in my neighborhood park that was the equivalent of Amarillo’s “Central Park.” I grew up unaware of the statue’s significance, as a symbol of white supremacy and slavery. In recent years, African Americans have been unsuccessfully petitioning the Amarillo City Council to have the statue removed from the park and placed in a museum.
The issue of Confederate statues came to my attention again in mid-March 2019, when Carol L. Folt was introduced as USC’s next president. She is coming to my alma mater from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where as chancellor she had to handle the controversy involving the removal of Silent Sam.
I have determined that one of my coming novels in the series, Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle, will deal with the issue of whether to remove the Confederate statue from the central park of my fictitious city of Mackenzie, which is modeled after Amarillo. At present, there is an absolutely incredible number of such monuments, which are scattered throughout the former Confederate states. The central theme of my novel will be: Is it right to honor a soldier who served in the wrong army? That is, even if the soldiers of the Confederate States of America were heroes and valiant soldiers, were they mistaken in fighting for what became known as the “Lost Cause”?
General Lee surrendered at Appomattox in 1865. But the controversy over what his army was fighting to defend—slavery or states’ rights—goes on.