North Carolina officials have decided to remove a statue of a white supremacist from the U.S. Capitol. That’s good. They plan to replace it with a statue of evangelist Billy Graham. That’s underwhelming.
The Capitol contains a section called Statuary Hall, where each state is permitted to erect two statues of people from their state who have done something noteworthy. You will see lots of familiar faces there. Virginia contributed George Washington, Kansas erected a statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Alabama put up a likeness of Helen Keller.
Other folks are not household names but still did interesting things. One of Nebraska’s statues honors Julius Sterling Morton, who pioneered new techniques in agriculture and founded Arbor Day.
North Carolina has decided that’s time for one of its statues to go. The image depicts Charles Brantley Aycock, who was governor of the state from 1901-05. Aycock is mainly known for being a white supremacist. He doesn’t deserve this honor.
But the state’s plan to replace Aycock with Graham isn’t right either. While Graham certainly has his fans, his claim to fame is that he was an evangelist for fundamentalist Christianity. He spent his life trying to convert people to his brand of that faith. That’s great for conservative Christianity, but it didn’t do anything to advance the public interest.
Plus, Graham’s record on human rights was weak at best. While he wasn’t an overt racist, Graham did little to advance civil rights during his career. Graham was a popular figure who could have used his considerable social capital to attack racism. He lacked the moral courage to do it.
During the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, Graham made anti-Semitic comments while visiting the White House, unaware he was being recorded. He later apologized – when the tape became public 30 years later. And Graham, like many conservative Christians, opposed LGBTQ rights. His views on women's rights were also often paternalistic.
North Carolina has a storied history with plenty of native sons and daughters who have done great things. Why give a coveted slot like this to someone whose contribution to society is minimal and whose views were often problematic?
As I told The Forward recently, “North Carolina should not swap one divisive, exclusionary figure for another; two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The state can surely do better.
Photo: Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol