Augusta has been challenged to be more “cool.”
Thursday night was a great start.
Coming together over the heated national debate about Confederate memorials and monuments, several hundred Augustans kept their cool and shared their thoughts, handshakes and even hugs at an NAACP rally at the Broad Street monument.
The crowd was a rainbow of ethnicities and views – with one white speaker urging the memorial be taken down and a black participant making a case for its continued presence.
One pair who appeared to initially assume they held contrary views ended up with not only more agreement than expected but a hug afterward.
Anything that could grow into trouble was nimbly nipped in the bud by Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree and his trained and ready deputies. At one point, Roundtree himself joined in to help nicely nudge a vocal onlooker – who wanted a little more “passion” at the event – smartly down the street.
Though some are already trying to leave no room for discussion – which is the kind of starting position that leads to conflict – this was the start of a community-wide dialogue on the subject.
While an inscription on the monument’s base is unfortunate, perhaps misunderstood, but inarguably hurtful to many – that “No nation rose so white and fair: none fell so pure of crime” – it is but one aspect of a very delicate, complicated discussion, a meeting of the minds that absolutely must lead to further reconciliation, 150 years after the great conflagration.
One of those aspects is the background and character of the soldier at the top of the monument – Berry Greenwood Benson, of the bygone hamlet of Hamburg across the river (now North Augusta, S.C.) whose last living relative is an Augustan, and who appears quite worthy of remembrance. The Chronicle explores Benson’s legacy in a story coming Sunday.
Also Sunday, the Chronicle’s Opinion section features three columns by learned locals on Confederate monuments and how to endure the current national heatwave. It turns out, as Nathan Jolles writes, that the way to stay cool is through emanating warmth.
We look forward to an extended, thoughtful community discourse on these very emotional issues. We hope Augusta can provide a new national standard for how to see it through not only peacefully, but graciously.
We applaud Sheriff Roundtree and his officers for providing a safe, civil atmosphere for this long-needed exchange to begin. And we hope the coming conversation can also channel passions into attacking some of our even greater challenges, such as education, poverty, hopelessness and meaning.
The tools we need to use in the matter at hand – civility, respect, kindness and, yes, love – will be just as essential on our more pressing problems.