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My Turn, Ronnie Smith: Put ‘Fame’ on the ballot in November

By Ronnie Smith

Like many citizens, I have been hesitant to get involved or speak up about the local controversy over “Fame,” the magnificent and beautiful monument to an angel of God and memorial to our Rowan County veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending their country, their families and their freedoms.  

With so many letters and articles in the Salisbury Post for and against the removal and relocation of this 111 year-old monument, now may be the time for all the citizens of Salisbury and Rowan County to stand up and speak up about what this monument means to our community. What better way to do this than to place this issue on the November ballot so all citizens can have a voice in this decision.

First, however, I would like to respectfully correct any citizen or outsider who may feel that “Fame” is a monument to slavery or oppression. On the contrary, in my humble opinion, it is the exact opposite. It is a memorial to our Rowan County veterans, black and white, who gave their lives for their country. And yes, history proves there  were many black soldiers among Confederate forces in the Civil War.

Ronnie Smith speaks at the dedication of the Rowan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial located at the Flag Concourse at Salisbury City Park. Jon C. Lakey/Salisbury Post

Although not an official member, I am, like many area residents, a son or daughter of the Confederacy. I have always felt that “Fame” was erected as a tribute and memorial to the hundreds of Rowan County veterans who gave their lives for their country. It is also a symbol of patriotism and respect for “duty, honor, and country,” a quality we admire in all veterans of all wars.

Why do so many citizens, especially the silent majority, feel so strongly about “Fame”? One reason may be that the fallen soldier in the arms of the Angel could easily be one of your or my ancestors. In fact, my great-great grandfather’s name is inscribed on the Rowan County Veterans Honor Roll for unselfishly giving his life to defend our faith, our freedom and our country. He was killed in action in the war between the states in a battle outside Lynchburg, Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee. And while not by choice, my middle name and that of my father and grandfather is “Lee,” a tribute to the famous general from the South.

Let me also add that my great-great grandfather who gave his life for us in the Civil War was a good and decent man who loved his family and our country. He was also a simple dirt farmer from the Trading Ford area of Rowan County. He never owned a slave and, unlike many of the northern carpetbaggers, he was never an advocate for slavery. In fact, we’re told he fought alongside several black soldiers from the South.

As a young boy growing up in Salisbury and as a lifelong member of St. John’s Lutheran Church on West Innes Street, I often heard my mother say that the “fallen soldier” in the arms of the Angel could have very well been my great-great grandfather.  

It may also be ironic that my late father Wilson Lee Smith, who received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Service Award, was not only named for Robert E. Lee but also for Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States. Even President Wilson, who helped lead our country to victory during World War I, was recently labeled a racist and had his statue removed from our nation’s capital. Many protesters did not know that Wilson was married to a direct descendent of Pocahontas and was a strong advocate for diversity in the White House.  

I also understand and can respect the opinions of those members of our society who have advocated the removal, destruction or relocation of “Fame.” Of course, we cannot and should not try to destroy or erase the history of our great country, but rather learn from it. Those who ignore history may be compelled to repeat it. I think we may be witnessing that today in many cities across the country. We cannot afford to allow this to continue.

So, let’s consider a possible solution. Let’s show each other there is more love than hate, violence and vandalism in America. Let’s put a little more love and respect in our hearts for each other.  

As citizens of Salisbury and Rowan County standing up to voice our opinions about “Fame,” let’s do so in the spirit of compromise. We hope and pray the City Council, United Daughters of the Confederacy and Historic Salisbury Foundation will seriously reconsider placing this magnificent monument in an old, abandoned and deteriorating cemetery on North Lee Street where it may be “lost” forever, hidden from public view and subject to future acts of vandalism.

Let’s vote to select a site that is as prominent or even more prominent than the West Innes Street location. We could even rededicate the statue in memory of all Rowan County veterans.

Let’s select a place of dignity for “Fame” where we can all honor and respect our ancestors, black and white, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Let’s put “Fame” where it belongs — on the ballot this November and give everyone a voice and a vote. Why not?

Ronnie Smith live in Salisbury.

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