Honest Abe defaced

by Devender Sellars

I got in my truck for the ritual Sunday errands. The drive to the Laundromat seemed like any other at the end of the weekend, even with ice melting on the streets. I was thinking about writing this column on the joys of a recent snowboarding trip, or the whimsical eccentricities of morality as proffered by action movies. Everything changed when

I almost handed this funny looking five dollar bill to the bartender.

The bill had obviously passed through many hands in its eight year life. Folded over many times, the crease was permanent and the edges had faint tatters. I wondered where the bill had traveled during its life — across state lines; through the hands of men, women and childrens; to banks, restaurants, copy shops and homes.

A red stamp covered the face of Abraham Lincoln. To be more accurate — a pink, faded Confederate flag was stamped at a 30-degree angle on Lincoln’s face, as well as the backside, covering the center of the Lincoln Memorial. The pink color had bled through both sides of the bill.

I gasped at the moment of realization, my head spinning for a moment before focusing again on Abe’s solemn and defamed face. His seemingly tired eyes showed resignation while staring through the pink ink. I wasn’t sure where I got it, but wasn’t too surprised when I found a mention of such a stamp from the Southern Poverty Law Center. They reported about a store in Cayce, SC called the Southern Patriot Shop, where the reporter said the owner, Savid Sutter, “methodically stamped over Lincoln’s face on each of them with a red Confederate flag.”

After my initial white, liberal outrage faded, I focused less on neo-Nazis or Aryan wackos in South Carolina, and more on what such a symbol represents for us in the Triad.

Even on the 50th anniversary of the sit-ins at the Woolworth’s on Elm Street, and during the reign of the first African-American President, we still have so many more miles to walk before our country has racial justice and harmony. Comments by Chris Matthews about forgetting Obama was black, Harry Reid speaking of a “Negro dialect” or pontifications on a “post-racial” society only present a myopic view of race relations in our country. And this five-dollar bill starkly presented to me how the legacy of white supremacy gives and takes power at a moment’s notice.

While white zealots in the South may talk of slavery being the true word of God, the current of racism runs deep and bubbles to the surface in subtle forms of communication for us all. North Carolina may have moved beyond segregation and an overt white power structure, but we all still are affected by the presence of such a legacy; we still judge not just by the content of another’s character.

Looking down at Abe’s red and green face, I am reminded of how little time has passed since black men and women were considered two-thirds of a person, or forced to sit at the back of the bus. Such symbols and ideas still exist today — the legacy of bigotry and violence permeates our lives more than we like to admit.