Very little surprises me anymore. After all, I spent years upon years dealing with public officials of every kind: Small, medium and large; sober, drunk or stoned; and most frequently animal, vegetable or mineral. I spoke to hundreds, probably a few thousand, people on the phone who expressed variations of warped or circular logic. There were shouters, whisperers and mumblers; cussers, threateners and moaners. There was even the now late politician Cary Allred who combined each and every characteristic mentioned in this paragraph.
But there’s just one Tim Sutton, a longtime Alamance County commissioner. I’ve spoken to him on hundreds of occasions over the years and swapped some email, too. He’s plain-spoken, brutally direct, hypercritical and sometimes abrasive. He eschews what he calls “political correctness” but seldom notes there is a difference between that and good manners. He’s said or done enough things to have his liberal opponents question his motives, particularly his views on race. I’ve always noted that he usually says questionable things that go right up to the line without crossing wildly over. Sometimes it’s a close call. Sometimes it’s a very close call.
At a meeting of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners Monday night he said something that redefines the word asinine. The quote came during a discussion about the Confederate monument in Graham, a focal point of contention for the past few years in Alamance County as similar monuments have been criticized or removed in other Southern communities. The group ACTBAC (Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County) stated its case for keeping the monument despite opposition by those who feel it’s a symbol of racism. Members of ACTAC Monday distanced themselves from neo-nazi and other white supremacist groups who over the years have co-opted the Confederate flag as their own symbol of hatred. ACTBAC contends such statues are memorials to those who fought in the war or historical markers and nothing else.
But that’s a discussion for another day or previous days as the case may be since the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. What Sutton said Monday took this topic to another place entirely in what is a profoundly disturbing disconnect with reality if this is what he actually believes. Here’s what he said, according to a report in today’s Burlington Times-News.
Commissioner Tim Sutton finalized the board’s comments by admitting he is a chartered member of the Sons of the Confederacy and hinted that his family once owned slaves.
“I will never vote to do anything to take that statue or monument away from here for whatever reason,” Sutton said. “If it comes down, it goes back up. To heck with facts. The emotions have just gone haywire. I am not going to be a victim of political correctness. I am just not going to do it. Label me all you want, say what you will about me.
“I am not ashamed of my great-grandfather,” Sutton continued. “He did what he did. It is my understanding that when he died, from Sarah, my grandmother, that some guys on the farm, you can call them slaves if you want to, but I would just call them workers, that they raised a good bit of my family. When the time came, my great-grandmother gave them land. I am not going to be an assault on logic, an assault on the history of this country and the heritage of this area and this country. Not going to do it.”
Sutton’s reference to slaves as “workers” is about as incorrect an assessment as stating that Holocaust victims were merely campers. “Workers” are not abducted from their homes against their will. “Workers” aren’t put in chains and forced into the cargo hold of an old wooden ship with hundreds of others and transported a thousand miles to a completely different continent — a voyage many didn’t survive. “Workers” aren’t removed from these ships then sold at public auction to the highest whip-wielding bidder. “Workers” aren’t imprisoned on a farm in subhuman conditions and beaten with whips if they ran or misbehaved. “Workers” aren’t separated from their new families as barter for sale to another owner. “Workers” aren’t forced to work for no wages or risk being beaten or killed by their owners. “Workers” don’t call their corporate bosses “master.”
No, the people who endured that horrific treatment and much worse were slaves in the American South brought to this continent from Africa. The old idea of carefree slaves is a pathetic white myth.
To refer to slaves as “workers” is a distortion of the truth so vast it defies belief and logic. And it’s a dangerous assertion because there are a few out there who are willing to believe it these days. Apparently Sutton is one of them.
This is the kind of disconnect that almost makes me wish that Sutton and others of similar beliefs would be forced to watch films about slavery — like “12 Years a Slave” — over and over again until they fully understand it.