Egyptologist Tweets Instructions on How to Topple an Obelisk; Protestors Use Them to Tear Down an Obelisk-Shaped Confederate Monument in Birmingham, Alabama

Almost three years ago, in Durham, North Carolina where I live, protestors pulled down a Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse after the fatal attacks at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally, an event itself ostensibly about protecting a Confederate statue. Now, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who dedicated the Durham monument in 1924, want to see the statue go back up, in accordance with a 2015 state law prohibiting the removal of “historical monuments” by any local government without the express approval of the N.C. Historical Commission.

That law, of course, is why local residents could not get the statue removed legally, even though the city council would have done so in a heartbeat. Exasperated and faced with either the perpetual glorification of the slave-holding South on Main Street or with the breaking of an unjust law, they finally chose to fling a rope around the anonymous tin gray soldier and pull it to the ground. They didn’t have the easiest time getting it down. (Though it only took one person to topple Silent Sam, the Confederate soldier formerly on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus.)




Hundreds of Confederate monuments around the U.S. were cheaply made and mass produced in the early 20th century, part of a coordinated campaign of symbolic terror to accompany a wave of lynchings and a Lost Cause whitewashing of history. Many of them are hollow, but the effigies can still put up a fight. Many more are also protected by state laws prohibiting their removal (7 states in all). Such is the case in Birmingham, Alabama. The state passed a law in 2017 banning local governments from removing or renaming monuments more than 40 years old, conveniently covering the period when all the Confederate statues, streets, schools, etc. went up.

Wanting to help solve both of these problems—the physical resilience of certain monuments and the lack of legal remedies—Egyptologist Sarah Parcak suggested on Twitter some ancient math for taking down an obelisk that might make quick work of a Confederate monument, which also happened to be an obelisk. Her lengthy Twitter thread details the ratio of monument size to number of people needed to topple it, and recommends chains instead of ropes. She suggests “two groups, one on one side, one opposite,” pulling back and forth in a coordinated rhythm (driven by someone with a loudspeaker, ideally, and a song).

Parcak included a sketch and wrote slyly that sometimes an Egyptian obelisk can “masquerade as a racist monument,” wink, wink, nudge, nudge. “There might be just one like this in downtown Birmingham!” she concluded, “What a coincidence. Can someone please show this thread to the folks there.” Sure enough, there was such a monument, until the following evening, when “crowds protesting police brutality… tried to tear down the 52-foot-tall obelisk, known as the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, in Birmingham’s Linn Park,” notes Artnet news.

Despite Parcak’s precise instructions, her work of “experimental archaeology” may need tweaking. Protesters were unable to pull it down completely and the mayor stepped in and ordered a crew to finish the job. But people all over the U.S.—and in Bristol, U.K. and elsewhere—have been very successful ridding their cities of racist monuments to people who did everything in their power to perpetuate African slavery, colonial exploitation, and indigenous genocide while profiting handsomely. There are even maps showing people where to find such statues near them. May all such monuments to racism fall, may we learn why they went up in the first place, and may the people who lament their loss find better heroes.

via Artnet

Related Content:

An Anti-Racist Reading List: 20 Books Recommended by Open Culture Readers

The Civil War & Reconstruction: A Free Course from Yale University

How the “First Photojournalist,” Mathew Brady, Shocked the Nation with Photos from the Civil War

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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Comments (10)
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  • Stephen Lindsey says:

    Where does it end and who gets to decide?

  • Rick West says:

    Sadly,Anyone with any sense knows that it doesn’t.

  • droy says:

    She says “Don’t pull down actual ancient Egyptian obelisks” Weren’t they built by slaves?

  • brian says:

    Where does what end?

  • Stephen Lindsey says:

    The yellow brick road

  • Bill W. says:

    Josh is now advocating destroying culture he dislikes, like ISIS and the Taliban? The Egyptians and Romans built their monuments using slavery too, let’s tear those down, too I suppose. It’s forgotten many of these monuments are memorials to the dead,; when dedicated, Southern and Northern Vets alike attended, they were friendly in the decades afterwards. OC wouldn’t know that,Vets stick together. Who the hell are people with 21st Century morals, to judge those from past-centuries, for not being like-minded?

    A question: Tear down Confederate statues today, whose will be torn down tomorrow? Might be your heroes, times change you know. Maybe snowflakes will ban OC from the Internet, years from now, when they realize the site-masters don’t tolerate dissent, or differences of opinion on their comments boards, blocking them. Freedom of Speech is the enemy of Leftists!

    • Josh Jones says:

      Your First Amendment rights have not been violated. No one is required by law to publish your comments on their website. That’s not how the First Amendment works.

  • Bill W. says:

    You deflected, and missed the overall point. I love the cultural things presented on this site, but you preach tolerance out of both sides of your mouth; “do as I say, not as I do.” Discourse is dead. Why are the “Tolerant” so intolerant? Serious question.

    You’d be surprised how many people come here for escapist purposes (Art & Entertainment), and don’t want the woke-lecture, increasingly present here. I pine for the days of classic -liberalism, rather than today’s Progressivism, activists who are only pretending to be something they’re not. Follow Sandburg’s example, which was being for-the-people, while still being a patriot. It works, and draws, not repels, the common-man to your cause.

    Signed,

    A Disappointed OC fan. You can do better here!

    • Josh Jones says:

      Firstly, why do you refer to me by my first name? We’ve never met. Secondly, you seem to think you have some ownership over the content of this site. Our aim here is not “escapist.” If that’s all you’re after, maybe look elsewhere. If you don’t like Open Culture’s content, don’t read it. Your “disappointment” isn’t going to change what this site decides to publish. Thirdly, I don’t care about your facile definition of tolerance. You seem to want to debate the writers here, but speaking for myself, I have no interest in conversation with you. I can explain it no better than Bertrand Russell did in his letter to British fascist Oswald Mosley:

      I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

      I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

      If you comment respectfully, your comments will be posted. If they are irrelevant or hostile, they will be moderated. But don’t expect anyone to debate you about their posts. People have better things to do with their time.

  • 9 to 5 Voyager says:

    Bro. No.

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