Chatham commissioners vote to terminate Confederate monument agreement with UDC, call for removal plan by Oct. 1

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 8/18/19

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday night, with Commissioner Andy Wilkie the lone dissent, to terminate the county’s agreement with the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy regarding the Confederate soldier monument in front of the Chatham County Historic Courthouse in downtown Pittsboro.

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Chatham commissioners vote to terminate Confederate monument agreement with UDC, call for removal plan by Oct. 1

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Posted

PITTSBORO — “You’re a traitor to the county!”

“I hope y’all rot in hell!”

And with that, it’s been decided.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday night, with Commissioner Andy Wilkie the lone dissent, to terminate the county’s agreement with the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy regarding the Confederate soldier monument in front of the Chatham County Historic Courthouse in downtown Pittsboro.

The motion, presented by Commissioner Jim Crawford, stipulated that the UDC has until October 1 to communicate plans for the monument’s removal in writing. The county manager would then be responsible for “making every effort” to remove the monument in a timely manner. If a plan is not received, the statue would be declared a “public trespass” on November 1.

“The monument represents government speech that at one time was consistent with the ruling values of the county,” Crawford’s motion said, “but now its message is inconsistent with the ruling values of the county.”

The decision ended several months of debate — most of it among citizens during the public comment section of commissioner meetings — surrounding the monument, which was placed outside the courthouse in 1907. Now, 112 years later, its days ­— at least in its current resting place at the courthouse — are numbered.

The UDC had previously pledged, in a statement two weeks ago, to seek legal remedy if the statue were to be “reimagined.”

The vote came after a long commissioners’ meeting during which the monument discussion and all public comments were saved until the end. The restless crowd, which had sat through public hearings on zoning and a presentations on other topics, erupted after the vote.

A sizable portion of those in attendance, who had previously stood in support of removing the statue, began applauding, while another portion began booing and shouting at the commissioners. It continued a trend that had been established a few minutes earlier, when some of the commissioners began explaining their position.

Commissioner Karen Howard said it was “disappointing” that the UDC had backed out of discussions to “reimagine” the monument and that Chatham “had a unique opportunity to address this in a more productive way than other counties.” Board Vice Chairman Diana Hales said the story of Confederate veterans was “worth retelling and commemorating,” but not in the form of a monument on public property.

“It is a constant reminder of the brutality, second-class status and political power that the white population exercised over their neighbors of black skin,” Hales said. “The monument should be relocated to an appropriate commemorative site.”

During Hales’ comments, some of the individuals who had defended keeping the monument in its current place began shouting “no!” and interrupting. The comments continued during Crawford’s motion and later comments by Howard.

“What’s clear is, regardless of what side of this issue you reside on, this statue does not reflect the views of this governing board,” Howard said. “The mere fact that anybody in this community has expressed that the monument is abhorrent to anyone should have been dispositing of the issue.”

She added that the county should probably pursue some racial reconciliation efforts, a suggestion that prompted laughter on the “keep” side of the courtroom.

After the meeting, Wilkie, the lone Republican on the board who represents District 5, explained his no vote by saying he attempted to represent his constituents. District 5 includes most of the land south of Siler City and west of Goldston.

“All my friends and neighbors were against it,” he said. “I live in Goldston and you know where these people are from. They’re from western Chatham County. That’s where I live, and that’s what I’m here for, to represent them.”

Commission Chairman Mike Dasher said the monument was placed outside the courthouse “in a very different time in a very different Chatham County,” and if the same agreement were proposed today, it would go nowhere.

“I think we certainly made every effort that we could to have a collaborative approach,” he said. “The option still exists, but the whole point was to work together in good faith. If the signatory to that agreement isn’t willing to do it, I’m not sure what options are left.”

Dasher said he wasn’t willing to commit to fighting any potential legal action from the UDC — which Winnie Davis Chapter President Barbara Pugh hinted at in a letter to Dasher earlier this month — but acknowledged the sides had “different interpretations of where the law is.” The UDC has maintained the statue’s placement is protected under a state law.

Pugh spoke during the public input portion of the meeting, directing her comments to the idea that the Civil War was not about slavery as part of her defense for the monument.

“If you destroy the truth, there’s no virtue left,” she said. “The truth is that the Confederacy was for a limited and decentralized government as opposed to a strong centralized government with a one-size-fits-all policy from D.C.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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