Editor’s note: The following column was written by Dr. Wesley Fennell and regards a presentation he made to the Randolph County commissioners in August 2017 asking that the Confederate monument at the 1909 Historic Courthouse be removed. Fennell has requested that his entire remarks be published, as he intends to revisit this issue with commissioners at an upcoming board meeting this spring and feels they are appropriate in light of racism issues raised recently by a Washington Post article and a followup by The Courier-Tribune seeking citizens’ reactions.
My name is Dr. Wesley Fennell. I am very appreciative of the Randolph County commissioners for allowing me, as a concerned citizen, time to address them concerning the urgent need to remove the Confederate monument from the grounds of the Randolph County Courthouse in Asheboro, N.C.
I have been a very proud citizen of Randolph County for the past 45 years and have had many memorable experiences during these many years, both positive and negative. The most positive involves raising two wonderful children in this county.
My negative experiences are many. I will list a few. I was denied housing of my choice and was told to seek housing in the low-rent section of town when I initially moved here for employment. I was once blocked from leaving my driveway by police officers, preventing me from driving to work, because they did not believe a black person lived in a relatively nice home.
When applying for a teaching position in this county, my wife was told that she did not qualify because Tuskegee Institute must be some type of mental institution. My second wife came home in tears after being told by a counselor at Randolph Community College not to pursue training in the photography department because he did not think she could keep up in such a challenging field of study.
More recently, after graduating from Randolph Community College, which to my knowledge had never hired a black instructor in its photography department, I attempted to obtain an application for an instructor position. I felt very qualified because, when there as a student, I was one of the very few students selected as a candidate for Ambassadorship mainly due to my excellent academic performance.
Upon requesting an application, I was told by a receptionist that I needed a master’s degree to qualify. At that time not one instructor in the photography department held a master’s degree and only two held B. Sc. degrees. At the time, I held an associate degree in Photographic Technology, a B. Sc. degree in Applied Sciences and a doctorate degree. After presenting these degrees to them, they still refused to give me an application.
I feel ashamed complaining about the above examples of racism because when I drive past the Confederate monument, I am reminded that my ancestors suffered much, much more from the terrorism of slavery. As I observe this symbol of white supremacy, I can almost see the many enslaved people stacked like sardines in a can on a ship destined to an unknown land, with very little to eat, as many drown in feces and urine; young girls being raped and impregnated at will by white sailors; and others screaming as they chose suicide over the cruelty they were experiencing.
Is this monument a symbol of a history that citizens of Randolph County should be proud of?
No, this symbol of terror should be insulting, degrading, shameful and embarrassing to not only the citizens of Randolph County, but also the citizens of the state and country. Fighting a war defending the right of the Confederate states to enslave human beings is not heroic.
I often wonder what visitors of this country think of us. Do they think this monument represents a place they would like to live and raise a family or locate a new industry? What type of justice can our African-American citizens expect when they observe this monument as they enter the courthouse for trial?
As I prepared for this presentation, I discussed the history of Randolph County with people more knowledgeable than I. Surprisingly, I learned the true history of Randolph County, a history that made me very proud, a past that we all can celebrate. I learned that the residents of Randolph County voted against secession from the union and how members of the Quaker faith illegally and secretly helped enslaved people find freedom by assisting them in traveling to northern states. This was known as the Underground Railroad.
I truly believe that it would significantly improve the image of Randolph County if, after the removal of the Confederate monument, a monument were erected commemorating the courage and bravery of the Quakers for assisting the enslaved people as they attempted to find their way to freedom.
* Dr. Wesley Fennell is a former president of the Randolph County chapter of the NAACP. A graduate of the Tuskegee (Institute) University, he worked as a veterinarian and USDA inspector before obtaining his associate degree in Photographic Technology at Randolph Community College and starting his own business, Wesley Fennell Photography.