Buncombe County – Did you feel it? I mean, the weight of oppression that was lifted off Pack Square in Asheville when the monument to “racist” Zebulon Vance was removed and dismantled? No – I didn’t think so.
The Asheville City Council, only a few years removed from having a fundraiser to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the 120 plus year Vance Monument, has not only removed it but ordered its destruction. Can anyone say bipolar?
This puts the Asheville City Council into an exclusive club with other members like ISIS, the Taliban, Antifa. Now, our Asheville City Council destroys historical monuments they find distasteful in not in keeping with their present worldview.
They say the monument was a tribute to a racist. Look, by today’s standards, everyone from our past was a racist. You cannot compare today’s generation to those who lived in the mid-1800s. NC State Rep. John Ager had a great idea to turn the monument into a memorial for all the slaves who died building the Asheville’s railroad system. But no, the obelisk monument had to go. The question lingering was if there could be another reason that the Vance Monument had to vanish? Was it just because he was a racist?
Did anyone happen to read the Mountain Xpress’s 2003 “Asheville’s monument to tolerance” by Steve Rasmussen? You should stop reading this now and scan the QR code on the page to that poignant article.
Rasmussen says Vance started his transformation at “…the very end of the war, when a Jewish hatmaker rescued the captured Confederate governor from what could have been the most degrading moment of his life. This took a deep root in his heart as he uncovered a profound respect for the despised Jews among his contemporaries. On his 35th birthday, Union cavalry surrounded the governor’s home in Statesville and arrested him. The Union officer in charge was, in full public view, forcing the portly and somewhat horsemanship-challenged Vance to ride or walk the 35 miles towards the nearest rail line to Washington. It was then that Samuel Wittkowsky, a local Polish immigrant who admired Vance, intervened, persuading the officer to let him drive the governor in his carriage.
“The Southerner and the Jew became lifelong friends. After the war, Vance won an election seat in the U.S. Senate from North Carolina. However the Reconstruction-era Republicans controlling Congress refused to allow the ex-Confederate to ever take his seat. Vance returned to his law practice in Charlotte for several years until the political climate in Washington had tempered. Most likely through his social connection with Wittkowsky, Vance got to know and now deepen his regard for the other members of that city’s prospering Jewish community which had recently escaping from the ‘Old World’ ghettos and pogroms.”
So, the Asheville City Council effectively destroyed a monument honoring someone who had proven his philo-Semitism (his appreciation for the Jewish people) by actions that also won the hearts of his Jewish contemporaries during the mid-1800s. Let’s not forget this was a time when anti-Semtisim was well on the rise and tragically becoming mainstream. In that regard, Vance was out in front. So appreciating that little bit of historical context, it appears that the Asheville City Council has found themselves agreeing with the likes of ISIS and the Taliban on one fundamental point: they will not honor anyone who is against anti-Semitism. So does that make the Asheville City Council’s decision to erase the Vance Memorial anti-Semitic? Asking for a friend.