After 100 years, soldiers are no longer segregated on Durham’s WWI memorial
By Andrew Carter
via the Stars and Stripes Newspaper web site
DURHAM, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — For 100 years, the World War I memorial in Durham served as a constant reminder of a different and more unequal era in American history. The stone pillar was both a monument to those who lost their lives, and to a time when not even their ultimate sacrifice could make men equal in the eyes of the country they died serving.
When the memorial went up in 1921, the first piece in what became a statue garden in front of the old county courthouse, it listed Durham County men who'd died in the war. The names of the white soldiers were etched into the front of the monument, facing Main Street and easily visible to those who walked past. On the back, out of sight, were the names of the Black soldiers.
In time, the monument began to symbolize a quiet fight for equality. Now, after a year of national reckoning concerning race, and in a time in which Confederate monuments throughout the South have been removed or torn down, Durham's World War I memorial tells a more complete story. In March, the city unveiled a plaque in front of the memorial, complete with historical context and a full list of the men who died in that war.
The names are organized not by race, but in alphabetical order. More than a hundred years after those men could have died together in a trench, they are listed together in a prominent place in their home county, which they once departed never to return.
"It reflected a time period that wasn't our best and brightest," Linzie Atkins said of the memorial's original form, when the names were segregated. Atkins is an officer with the Durham County Department of Veterans Services, and he assisted in the effort to update the monument. Through various records, he helped identify some soldiers whose names were not included on the memorial.
"I welcomed the project," he said, "in terms of trying to come up with some way of addressing that particular era here in Durham, and then trying to do as best we can to kind of put things in order. Because on the battlefield, the bullet doesn't care what color you are."
The updated memorial has been a long time coming, and is the culmination of an effort that dates to at least 2003. That's when the Durham City/County Appearance Commission adopted a resolution to address the segregated names on the memorial. In 2013, Eddie Davis, a former Durham city councilman, submitted that resolution to the board of county commissioners.
It took another eight years for the project to come to fruition.
"Displaying this memorial plaque will serve as a sober reminder that the time to do what is right is always 'now,'" Lois Harvin-Ravin, the county director of veterans services, said in a recent statement. "It's about more than rearranged and added names. This plaque speaks from the heart of Durham and shouts that every life is important, regardless of race."
Read the entire article on the Stars and Stripes web site here:
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