Historian says time capsule found at Confederate monument may add context to ongoing calls for change

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Dan Fountain, like many historians, is anxious to know what’s inside a time capsule from 1894 that was discovered Monday while removing a Confederate monument at the North Carolina Capitol.

“Everybody likes the idea of what’s at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box,” he said.

It’s the excitement about the unknown that is fascinating, Fountain said. The discovery is topical considering it could provide a look back at the time when the monument was erected, giving context to the ongoing conversations about racial injustice in 2020.

“It’s an interesting moment because we’re at a time where we are rethinking the placement of what we commemorate, and here’s a thing that normally would garner a huge amount of excitement. But we’re at a very different moment and we’re starting to shift on our interests in things of the Confederate era,” Fountain said. He is a history professor at Meredith College. He specializes in the history of race and slavery.

An 1894 article written in the Daily Press mentions the capsule, what may be in it, and who was there when it was put away.

“The groups that wanted this preserved were beginning that effort we called Lost Cause. And so, they could have been putting away what they would consider artifacts relics, even as some historians use the term religious religious relics,” Fountain said.

A relic would be considered the lock of General Robert E. Lee’s hair and hair from his horse.

“It would have been important in terms of North Carolina’s association with Lee (and) the use of the name Tar Heel being attached to that as being symbolically strong in the fight,” Fountain said.

The speeches that are listed as included could have the most significance. They would provide insight into the intent of the statue and the mindset of the people who put it there.

“As a historian, I’m always wanting to see, is there something in there that is going to change your understanding of an event? Is there something that’s going to be in there that’s going to be surprising? This is before that sea change in North Carolina politics,” Fountain explained.

“Republicans and Populists, the other parties in the state of the time, opposed the monument. It will be interesting if it was all Democrats at that time. Who are the people who did that?”

The North Carolina Department of Natural Resources hopes to open the time capsule on Thursday.

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