Race in Alabama

Free State of Winston Honors Its Dual Destiny as Confederate Monuments Fall

Statue reflects dual loyalties of Winston County. Source: Scott Morris

DOUBLE SPRINGS — As racial tensions burn across the United States and protesters in the South pressure officials to remove Confederate symbols, all is quiet on this northwestern Alabama front.

No one is trying to tear down what may be the most unusual courthouse monument in the state, a statue called Dual Destiny that features both Confederate and U.S. flags.

Perhaps the design of the monument makes it more palatable to current values. But the lack of conflict also may lie in the fact that only 124 of the county’s estimated 23,968 residents are black.

Roger Hayes, himself serving in a dual role as County Commission chairman and Haleyville barber, said residents are proud of their monument and their heritage of supporting the Union during the Civil War. Although he has not received direct complaints about the monument, he did hear barbershop rumors that a group planned to attack it. So the county increased security.

“We heard that a group in Jasper was headed toward Double Springs,” he said. “It was apparently false. We don’t go bothering anybody, and we don’t want them bothering us. We just want to be left alone.”

Winston County. Source: Wiki Commons

Although he represents a county that remained loyal to the United States 159 years ago and he said he “tries to treat people right, no matter their race,” Hayes doesn’t support efforts to remove Confederate monuments. He said everyone has a right to celebrate their history.

“We got a good country, and we don’t need anybody tearing it down,” he said. Other residents interviewed in the county’s largest town, Haleyville, echoed similar feelings.

Dual Destiny Monument

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 1,747 Confederate monuments across the nation, but the statue designed for the city of Double Springs and erected at the Winston County Courthouse may be unique, or at least unusual, for its dual destiny theme. Another difference from the majority of statues is that the Winston monument was erected in 1987, not during the period immediately after Reconstruction, during Jim Crow suppression or the segregation era of the 1950s.

The sculptor, German-born Branko Medenica, is the same person who in 2013 created the Charles Linn statue in Birmingham, which protesters pulled down May 31. Linn was a sea captain who aided the Confederate Navy and founded what became AmSouth Bank.

Medenica’s soldier in the Winston County monument bears both U.S. and Rebel flags, and he holds a broken sword.

Inscription with monument at the Winston County Courthouse. Source: Scott Morris

“This Civil War soldier, one-half Union and one-half Confederate, symbolizes the war within a war and honors the Winstonians in both armies,” wrote Donald D. Dodd, professor emeritus of history at Auburn University, in the monument’s inscription. “Their shiny new swords of 1861 were by 1865 as broken as the spirits of the men who bore them, and their uniforms of blue and gray once fresh and clean were now as worn and patched as the bodies and souls they contained. Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, disillusioned by the realities of war, shared dual destinies as pragmatic Americans in a reunited nation.”

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said some people have suggested the courthouse monument should have been limited to a Union soldier because most people from Winston County sided with the United States. He said he once talked to Dodd about this suggestion.

“(He) told me that if the Dual Destiny monument in Winston County had been solely of a Union Army soldier, then it would have been one of the few — perhaps the only — monuments to the Civil War of a Union soldier in the Deep South.”

Confederate monuments that appeared during racially oppressive periods in history were erected to teach certain values to people, University of North Carolina at Greensboro history professor Mark Elliott told history.com. Those values include

“glorification of the cause of the Civil War,” he said.

Today, the monuments have come under fire as more people consider what the symbols represent and watch as white supremacy groups embrace the Confederate flag.

In a recent Facebook live conference, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, said there is a “moral awakening of so many people in this country to the fact that there are so many of our brothers and sisters who are still being denied equal opportunities, equal rights and equal dignities.”

Aderholt said he would never claim to know how blacks feel, but he understands why Confederate monuments might offend them.

“People see these monuments from many different perspectives and lenses,” he said. “My hope is that we learn that our system of government allows for change that that one man or race is not superior to another. There is always room for us to strive to do better.”

Aderholt said he generally believes historical monuments should be left in place. When the House of Representatives voted in 2019 to ban Confederate flags at national cemeteries, Aderholt voted against the measure.

“As with the monument in Winston County, they are not all the same,” he said. “The Civil War is a dark period in our nation’s history, but it was, nonetheless, a part of our history, and we must not forget our history. Removing all of the monuments will not change that history, but it might cause people to forget it and perhaps even repeat it.”

A sign welcomes travelers to the “Free State of Winston.” Source: Scott Morris

Living among a tiny black population far from urban centers, several Winston County residents expressed strong sentiments about monuments and racial issues. This includes limited empathy for George Floyd, the black man recently killed by a Minneapolis police officer. They also show little support for the protests, riots, criticism of police and removal of Confederate monuments that followed Floyd’s death.

“I’m tired of it,” said Robert Steelman, who moved to Winston County from the Birmingham area. “Where is our country going? It’s insane.”

He said Confederate monuments are important for teaching history to schoolchildren. Removing those monuments is like eliminating history, he said.

Outside a business in Haleyville, Jessica Shank agreed that Confederate monuments are part of history that should be preserved. She said Floyd’s death is the responsibility of one police officer, and it shouldn’t turn into a widespread racial issue.

“I’m not racist,” she said, adding that her first child is bi-racial.

Aderholt said the nation needs to listen to the concerns of African Americans and other minorities.

“What happened to George Floyd is unacceptable. Period,” he said. “I believe that the vast majority of the men and women in law enforcement are dedicated to doing their jobs professionally and with courtesy, and find what happened appalling. However, we need to make new efforts to root out that small percentage of law enforcement officers who are not in the profession for the right reasons.”

Free State of Winston

In reality, the Free State of Winston was never a state, nor was it free from the Confederacy. It was filled with Unionists, and was dogged and persecuted during the war, according to Ronald Jackson, the go-to volunteer for expertise on local history at the Winston County Archives. Some of the hard feelings lingered after the war.

In the 1860 Census, Winston County listed 14 slaveholders and 122 slaves, which helps explain both its lack of zeal for Confederate ideology and today’s small black population. The county is 94% white, according to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, compared to 65% statewide.

From its earliest days, the county possessed a deep loyalty with the United States and fondness for Andrew Jackson, which carried over as states in the South seceded from the Union.

“Most people here were children of Revolutionary soldiers and the war of 1812,” Ronald Jackson said. “They clung to the Union.”

Voters from 1860 in Winston County did not choose President Lincoln — he wasn’t on the ballot in Alabama — but they helped Winston became one of the strongest Republican counties in the state.

With talk of secession swirling throughout Alabama after Lincoln’s election, Winston County residents chose Charles Christopher Sheats to represent them as a delegate to the state capital in Montgomery. Sheats ran on a platform to “vote against secession first, last and all the time,” according to an article at freestateofwinston.org.

Sheats was among 24 delegates who did not sign the secession resolution. Jackson said Sheats and others were eventually thrown into prison so they could not oppose the secession resolution.

“They got a 100% vote by eliminating the ones who wouldn’t vote for it,” Jackson said.

During a regional meeting with Sheats at Looney’s Tavern at Double Springs, the Union loyalists agreed to several resolutions that declared their wishes to remain neutral. Jackson said one resolution stated that if a state could secede from the Union, then a county could secede from the state. This resolution didn’t pass, but someone shouted “The Free State of Winston!” The name stuck, and today it adorns a few barns in the county.

Winston County residents quickly gained a reputation for being traitors to the Confederacy, which resulted in raids and attempts to conscript men into military service against their will.

After their 1862 victory at Shiloh, Tennessee, Union troops moved into nearby north Mississippi and established camps. Jackson said many men sneaked out of Winston County and joined the First Alabama Cavalry USA in Glendale, Mississippi, eventually becoming guards for Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

According to the plaque on the courthouse monument, Winston County provided 239 soldiers for the Union. They were part of the estimated 300,000 Southerners who fought for the Union Army, mostly from the Appalachian region from West Virginia to Winston County.

But those Union soldiers are not widely honored or celebrated in the South.

While Jackson said local resident are proud of their reputation as the Free State of Winston, he said the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans is active in honoring the Confederacy. On private land just off U.S. 278, a few miles west of the courthouse monument, the group erected a massive Rebel flag at a roadside park along with two statues and a recruitment sign.

Winston County provided 112 soldiers to the Confederates, according to the Dual DPolitical Twists and Turns

Trying to follow the twists and turns of political ideology in Winston County is like driving one of the many mountain roads here that plunges into dark hollows only to climb onto sunny ridge tops.

Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. was present in 1987 when officials dedicated the Union/Confederate monument. He was among the state’s Democrats seeing their power evaporate with the election of Republican Gov. Guy Hunt.

But the ground where Folsom stood in Winston County was a Republican stronghold long before being Republican was considered cool in Alabama.

“When Alabama seceded from the Union, Winston County tried to secede from Alabama, and is still known as the Free State of Winston, even today,” Aderholt said. “This is actually the reason Winston County has been a Republican county for a century and a half when the rest of the state was solidly Democrat.”

The Republican party of Lincoln led to the end of slavery — with the help of Winston County — and for a short period, an escalation of political empowerment for blacks. Democrats fought to preserve slavery and to oppress blacks for decades after the Civil War.

Perceptions have flipped in modern history, however, with Democrats receiving the majority of black votes and aligning themselves with minority interests. Republican President Trump is taking criticism for being deaf to black concerns, clamping down on protests and dismissing claims of police brutality.

Winston County has stood by the GOP through the decades of sharp political change. In 2016, the county had the highest percentage of the Trump/Pence vote in the nation, according to the Alabama Republican Party.

Aderholt stands by his party and president, too.

“We were all shocked by the video of George Floyd, but then we became shocked by videos of rioters killing and hurting people,” Aderholt said. “I think the president has responded to this frustration out there that we cannot have anarchy.”

Winston County resident Maria Epperson said she agrees with peaceful protests against police brutality, but she doesn’t support taking down Civil War monuments.

“A monument never hurt anybody,” she said.