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A North Carolina mayor explains why he ordered the bulldozing of a Confederate monument

screenshots from a Facebook Live video showing a person in a tractor bulldozing a Confederate monument
via Facebook
In screenshots from a Facebook Live video streamed by Enfield, N.C. mayor Mondale Robinson on Aug. 21, 2022, a person in a tractor bulldozes a Confederate monument.

Commissioners in the small town of Enfield — north of Rocky Mount — recently voted to remove a Confederate monument from a local park. Days later, Enfield mayor Mondale Robinson started livestreaming while he instructed others to bulldoze the statue.

"Not in my town, not on my watch," Robinson repeated as a man in a tractor knocked over the monument.

It's the latest in a series of Confederate monument removals across the South since George Floyd's murder in 2020. But the way in which this statue in Enfield came down has attracted attention from beyond the town of 2,300 people.

Before Robinson instructed its removal, the monument had stood since 1928.

According to the UNC-Chapel Hill University Library, it cost $1,300 to build back then and was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. While inscriptions were added later to honor veterans of World War II and wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, the monument had a large Confederate flag carved into the front of its marble. An inscription below that flag read: “To The Memory Of The Veterans / Of The War / Between The States / "We Care Not Whence They Came / Dear In Their Lifeless Clay / Whether Unknown Or Known To Fame / Their Cause And Country Still The Same / They Died And Wore The Gray.”

Robinson sat down with WUNC's Will Michaels to share his motivations behind getting involved in removing the statue and livestreaming its fall.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

You said after the monument had toppled that no longer will Black kids be playing in this park and have to understand why a Confederate flag is flying. The Confederate flag was carved into the side of this marble slab.

"The only flag flying in his park is the United States of America's flag. If that's too hard for you to swallow, then you too are living in a time that is the wrong side of history. You do not respect Black lives. But in this town, we do."

What did this monument symbolize to you?

"You know, I think this monument symbolized everything that was slavery in this country. If we're honest with ourselves about our history, the Confederate States' constitution spells out plainly the reason they separated from the union. People try and pretend that the Civil War was not about slavery, but the Confederate States won't let them tell that story because their constitution absolutely says it was about slavery.

"Every time I looked at this, I understand the epigenetics that goes into post-traumatic stress. This was a trigger for so many people. Whether they experienced slavery or not, it was passed down through their grandparents and their great grandparents, on to generations forth. So, if we are to be trying to heal young Black children in the city of Enfield, then this was a huge step in that process."

You were elected mayor earlier this year, and in your campaign, you told the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald that you were running to improve the governance of Black people. Which makes me wonder, how long that this issue has been simmering not just for you, but for everyone in the town of Enfield.

"This, along with a lot of other issues, has been simmering a long time. And I know this to be true, because this conversation actually came up two years ago, and it was supposed to be handled and taken down then, and it just didn't happen. So you're absolutely right.

"But I mean, I have scars of my father, when a white guy on the plantation — they called it a sharecropping farm but it was a plantation — when the white guy hit my grandmother, and my father reacted, he got a felony for that. My mother was sprayed with a water hose right down the street from where my office is today. And this is not ancient history.

"So, that trauma is all associated with that statue that was not only an ode to the Confederacy, but on one side, it had a white-only water fountain and on the other side, it had a Black-only. And the quality of those water fountains could still be seen up until that monument fell a couple of days ago, because the white-only side was still standing, it was made of this strong metal and the Black side had long rusted off and there was no bowl there anymore."

As I'm sure you're aware at this point, at the request of the Enfield police chief and the local District Attorney, the State Bureau of Investigation is looking into this. They did not give any more details about the investigation, but Police Chief James Ayers told me commissioners voted to remove the monuments, they did not vote to destroy it. In light of that statement, do you still stand behind what you did?

"The chief is being fanciful at best, is all I can say about that. Because not only was I in the meeting, I actually led the meeting. Nothing [in that meeting was about] preserving that statue. The only dissenting vote, Commissioner (Kent) Holmes, said it was going to cost the town an outrageous amount of money to remove the statue and do something with it, place it somewhere. I said, I'll tear the statue down. It won't cost the town anything. And I've already found somebody that will haul it away for us."

By our counts, at least 25 Confederate monuments have come down in North Carolina in the last two years. But there are still about 75 standing. What do you think about the rest of those statues? Will they still be around in a year, or two, or 10?

"I think America has a high tolerance for Black suffering. And in that case, I think they will be around. Most of the ones in this state that have been taken down, the other ones were put in a warehouse or in a museum or in a [graveyard]. And I think that is absolutely tragic because you can't go anywhere in Germany and find statues honoring Hitler. And it doesn't matter if you put a plaque to say how great German soldiers are right now. And it looks like our white brothers and sisters — some of them — don't understand that the Confederate flag is the same, the equivalent to the Nazi flag to Jewish folk. Black North Carolinians will continue to live [understanding] that they still are, in places in this state, seen as second-class citizens."

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.