Considering future of ‘Heroes’ monument in light of past, present

Posted 3/29/19

As the debate over the placement of Confederate monuments in the 21st century has raged in North Carolina and around the country, Pittsboro’s “Our Confederate Heroes” monument is getting more intense focus from the community.

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Considering future of ‘Heroes’ monument in light of past, present

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Posted

CONFEDERATE STATUE: what you need to know

It’s reached Chatham County.

As the debate over the placement of Confederate monuments in the 21st century has raged in North Carolina and around the country, Pittsboro’s “Our Confederate Heroes” monument is getting more intense focus from the community.

The statue — a 7-foot depiction of a soldier atop a pedestal, facing north at the traffic circle in downtown Pittsboro, almost as if it were guarding the Historic Courthouse with a watchful eye from marauders — was surrounded by a number of onlookers on March 18 in advance of a Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting. While nothing regarding action took place at that night’s commissioners meeting, aside from some public comments about the statue’s possible future, action could be coming soon.

In advance of the April 15 commissioners meeting — during which at least one group will formally be granted the opportunity to speak to the statue’s place in Pittsboro — the News + Record has compiled some of the important facts and realities of the statue as rumors and opinions about its possible future swirl.

What is the history of the statue?

According to the UNC-Chapel Hill Library’s “Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina,” the statue is the product of the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Located in Pittsboro, the Winnie Davis chapter — presumably named after the youngest daughter of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis — collected the necessary funds to build the monument. The chapter was organized in October 1898 and regularly collected money for statues, monuments and memorials across the country and studied Confederate history.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy met in Durham from Oct. 10-12, 1906, and in the minutes from that convention — among other branches affirming that they had given aid and support to veterans and observed Jefferson Davis’ birthday — the Pittsboro group is recorded as having “in bank bearing interest $1,330.39 for our Monument which we will erect next spring.” The information was submitted by Mrs. H. A. London, the president of the Winnie Davis chapter and the convention itself.

The Confederate Veteran, a magazine which reported on the activities of Confederate groups, said in a 1907 edition that “a very handsome monument” was unveiled on Aug. 23, 1907 “to the Confederate soldiers of Chatham County, N.C., at Pittsboro, the county seat, with most impressive ceremonies and in the presence of the largest crowd ever assembled in that county.”

The statue was made of stamped copper and placed on top of polished Mt. Airy granite. It was constructed by C.J. Harlin, listed as the proprietor of the Durham Marble Works. The total cost was $1,700, as reported in the 1907 convention report. Mrs. London had reportedly written approximately 1,600 letters during a three-and-a-half-year period to get the statue funded, according to documents.

The statue faces north, up the Jefferson Davis highway. While many of the Confederate statues were erected in such a disposition to “face the enemy,” others were placed simply according to what was best for the locale, according to Texas historian Kelly McMichael of American Public University.

Of the approximately 1,500 Confederate symbols across the nation, a majority were erected early in the 20th Century, between 1900 and 1915. At this time, many states were implementing Jim Crow laws. At the same time, the United Daughters of the Confederacy was also implementing programs to influence the view and perspective of the Civil War in public schools.

The UDC created an auxiliary called the Children of the Confederacy to ensure that the next generation viewed the conflict based on Lyon Gardiner Tyler’s “Catechism on the History of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865,” which taught children to view the conflict with a “Lost Cause” mentality. Soon after, the UDC organized Historical Committees to influence which history textbooks were used in schools and fighting to ban any that it deemed “unjust to the south,” according to a UDC published work “A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges, and Libraries,” written by the UDC’s Mildred L. Rutherford.

This is the historical backdrop from which the Chatham Confederate statue was erected. According to historical documents, the Chatham statue is owned by the UDC with Chatham County giving permission for the statue to be placed on public grounds.

What are the legal ramifications, considering state law and ownership of the statue?

In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly, as a response to the growing call to move or remove Confederate statues in communities across the state, passed a bill protecting monuments and other memorials commemorating North Carolina history. The bill, titled the Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act, mandated that any “monuments, memorials and works of art owned by the state may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.”

Exceptions in the law carved out space for highway markers set up by the state Board of Transportation, objects that pose a threat to public safety “because of an unsafe or dangerous condition” or items owned by private parties located on public property. The statue at Chatham County’s Historic Courthouse is privately owned on public property, meaning it could fill one of those exceptions.

N.C. Rep. Robert Reives II, a Chatham County resident, said he feels the state’s stance on monuments is government overreach, which is why he’s co-sponsored a bill in the N.C. General Assembly right now to repeal the 2015 law.

“Government top down should really only step in when there’s something we have to rectify,” Reives said. “I’ve never felt comfortable with governance that can tell you what’s going to be in your yard.”

What has happened across the state and country in the last year or so regarding Confederate statues?

In recent years, Confederate statues and monuments across North Carolina and the country have been vandalized or removed. Statues across the state, from Wilmington to Salisbury to the State Capital in Raleigh have been marred with paint by vandals protesting the monuments. Vandalism to other monuments has caused more permanent damage.

In August of 2017, protesters in Durham pulled down the confederate statue that had stood at the old Durham Courthouse. Because of the 2015 law, Durham County Commissioners have been conducting an extensive legislative process to determine how best to deal with the remains of the statue while remaining compliant with the law.

At Duke University, a statue depicting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee outside its chapel was defaced, removing its nose and damaging Lee’s face, in August 2017. Duke later removed the statue for safety reasons. The university, as a private entity not bound by the state law, decided last year to leave the space empty after moving the statue.

Last August, protesters pulled down the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument that had been located on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus since 1913. The monument had been the subject of protest since the 1960s. The remaining pieces of the monument were removed in January by order of then-university Chancellor Carol Folt.

In January, the City of Winston-Salem requested the United Daughter of the Confederacy take back its statue that stood on the grounds of the former Winston Courthouse, giving them 30 days to take their property or the town would move it on its own. That land was sold in 2014 and renovated to be luxury apartments. The new owner supported the request to remove the statue. After the deadline passed, the town removed that statue, placing it temporarily in storage until it is moved to a cemetery. The UDC tried unsuccessfully in court to prevent the removal and has since filed additional suits against the town.

Thoughts from the Sons of Confederate Veterans

The News + Record reached out to multiple groups within Chatham County for this story. One group that responded was the Sons of Confederate Veterans, through North Carolina Division Commander Kevin Stone. Here’s what he had to say:

Do you believe the Confederate statue in Pittsboro should stay? Why or why not?

“Absolutely. Why should it not stay? Pittsboro’s Confederate memorial was dedicated in 1907 by a loving community that wanted to see the contributions and sacrifices of its Confederate veterans remembered for eternity. Today, the descendants of those veterans still live and work in Chatham County. The memorial is not only an important symbol of Pittsboro and Chatham County’s role in history — it also represents a tombstone for the sons of the county who did not return from the war.”

How do you feel about the recent trend of Confederate statues across the country being brought down?

“It’s an abhorrent trend. The effort to remove Confederate memorials and censor history and the important contributions of our forefathers is part of a protracted campaign of misinformation and ignorance being used to distract the citizens of this country from real problems.

“Meanwhile, your own paper reported that a giant statue of the Tamil god of war will be going up in Moncure. We are not opposed to this at all, however, we point out that while that object is being erected in recognition of the impact and contributions of Tamil people to our area, memorials that also represent local people who were sent to war by their Governor and died for our state are being torn down. The ‘diversity’ of our population and history should be truly represented and not selectively curated by political hypocrites. What we are opposed to is celebrating one culture and heritage and excluding another.”

Is there any reason the statue could not be moved inside the historic courthouse or somewhere else that is less public? Why or why not?

“Well, solutions like that are always proposed and people generally see them as reasonable because, what is the harm? Unfortunately, there is a great deal of harm involved in such a solution. We have seen firsthand that each time a memorial is moved somewhere “safe,” like a museum or a cemetery, further removal or, in many cases, physical damage follows. Once in a museum, what is to stop a curator from claiming that it makes patrons uncomfortable? Once in a courthouse interior, what is to stop a court attendee from claiming that it makes them feel like justice cannot be served? Once in a lonely cemetery, what is to stop a trespasser from throwing a bucket of red paint and writing obscenities on it? All of these things have happened and will happen again. Moving it is just another delay tactic that gives the mob what they want.

“Memorials like this one were intended to be on display to the community in prominent places so that those it memorializes are not forgotten."

“Further, we have a law in this state that prevents the removal of objects of remembrance like Pittsboro’s Confederate memorial. This law was conceived by lawmakers who were smart enough to see that the extreme political whims of one particular point in time, like now, should not dictate our state’s observance of history and the contributions and accomplishments of its citizens. Though the law has been totally disregarded in Durham and Orange counties, and the highest law enforcement authority in this state refuses to enforce it despite his oath, the law still stands. Eventually a community will stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ to the idea that some folks can pick and choose which laws they want to follow simply based on their politics. We hope and pray that community will be Pittsboro.”

How do members of your community respond to the conversation and debate?

“Honestly, it’s not really a conversation. The people on the other side of this issue are not interested in a conversation or even in showing us basic respect as human beings. You should see their Twitter feeds. They hurl insults, bombard and twist the political process and defame us and our ancestors. They blame us, President Trump or anyone other than themselves for causing this current climate of vitriol and hatred, but in every case, we observe that it is they who bring discord and hate to what used to be an opportunity for civil discourse. There is no conversation, only a wait each time to see how quickly politicians and civic leaders cave in to these extremists without considering the long-term consequences.”

What are people in the community saying?

Polls on social media are almost never scientific, so there is certainly no claim for accuracy or accurate reflection of the community. But a Twitter poll run by the News + Record starting on March 18 got 68 votes, with 50 percent saying keep the statue where it is and 50 percent calling for it to be removed.

Commissioners Chairman Mike Dasher said Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson suggested moving the April meeting to the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center, down the road from the monument, in anticipation of a lot of people.

“I’m sure it will draw a crowd,” Dasher said.

Community members from both sides of the discussion attended March’s commissioners meeting to express their concerns. A small group of individuals stood outside the courthouse for multiple hours prior to the meeting, with a few expressing their support for keeping the statue in place.

Peter Long, one of those residents, told the News + Record, “These monuments weren’t a problem before (President Donald) Trump got elected. They’re attacking these because they’re attacking conservatism, and they’re just using the Confederacy as a tool. They didn’t have a problem with the Confederacy when Obama was president.”

Inside the meeting, where the monument was not on the agenda, four people spoke on the monument. Elizabeth Haddix, a civil rights attorney based in Pittsboro, said it was “an assault on (her) as a human.”

“That statue is...a monument to white supremacy,” she said. “The statue needs to come down. It is high time that it needs to come down.”

Howard Fifer, who said he was one of the Chatham residents invited to speak at the April meeting, encouraged residents to attend the meeting and expressed hopes for a “civil discourse on a subject which, in nearby places, has proven to be a difficult conversation.”

“Please come to hear why some of your neighbors feel there is a very real and hurtful problem,” he said.

Reives, even as a Chatham resident, felt the discussion over the statue didn’t need any state-level input and that there are bigger fish to fry like increasing the number of available jobs, furthering economic development and improving education. He said he doesn’t want the discussion to get “sidelined” by politically-divisive topics but wants to “recognize how people feel.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think it’s such a difficult political climate that takes advantage of our differences.”

Where do the Chatham County Commissioners sit right now? What do they hope to get out of the April meeting?

The commissioners who spoke on the record to the News + Record said they’re simply looking forward to more education.

Mike Dasher, the board’s chairman, said he has a personal opinion on the statue, but was not ready to share it. He said he’s heard “good cases made from both sides” and is planning on “keeping an open mind” in April.

Dasher also spoke about hoping that Chatham County residents could step to the plate and bring a civilized and productive discussion on a heated topic.

“It’s like a lot of issues that we face right now,” he said. “Our immediate responses tend to be emotional, and what I’m looking forward to, based on what I know about the folks, I think it will a well-researched, thoughtful and informative presentation, and that’s all it is.”

Vice Chairman Diana Hales echoed Dasher’s hopes. She did not say whether or not she had a personal opinion, but said she hoped to learn from the presentation.

“I want to hear the presentation first,” Hales said. “I think it is fair to say that there are several opinions on what the statue represents, and one of the things that it does represent is the defeat of the South by the North, and there’s a lot of tenderness around that, and it also represents a way to commemorate soldiers whose lives were lost.”

Dasher said that he does feel there is a need to confront the issue, especially because citizens brought the request before the board. He also expressed confidence in Chatham’s residents.

“Because we know each other here, it ensures that we still treat each other respectfully and civilly,” he said. “I have more faith in a community like ours to sort through these things and discuss these things than some places around us. Maybe that’s naive, but I believe that.”

If taken down, what would/could happen to the statue?

The situation of the statue in Pittsboro is different than other high profile statues. Since it is privately owned by the UDC and housed on public land, it would appear to fall under the 2015 law’s exemptions. But whether the statue falls under the statute is a matter of discussion and dispute.

If the county determines that the statue should go, the UDC would have an opportunity to move the statue to private land if it so chooses. Another option could be to place the statue at a cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried. Others have voiced that perhaps a place inside the Chatham Historical Museum, with context provided, would be appropriate.

Both Hales and Dasher said there was no timeline on a decision. The April meeting is like any other commissioner meeting, Dasher said, with presentations on routine matters alongside the monument.

“From what I understand, they’re going to present a legal argument for how the monument could be returned to its owners,” he said. “The board certainly isn’t qualified to make that legal determination. I’m not sure what the next steps would be, if there are any next steps.”

Hales said she hopes to leave the meeting “more informed” and with the possibility of direction for county staff to investigate options.

“I have heard enough to understand that there might be some legal room here in terms of the monument itself,” she said. “As to discussion after the presentation on next steps, what’s appropriate, what more research do we need, I think that deserves consideration.”

Statement from Mike Dasher, Chairman,
Chatham County Board of Commissioners

As part of its 6 p.m. regular session on April 15, 2019, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners expects to receive a presentation from a local group regarding the Confederate Memorial statue in front of the Historic Courthouse. Because we expect considerable public interest in this presentation, we have moved this meeting to the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center on the west side of Pittsboro, which will accommodate a much larger crowd.

The presentation will be placed on the regular agenda to receive information. As is standard procedure for new proposals, the Board of Commissioners will not vote on the specific recommendations contained in the proposal at this meeting.

The group’s presentation is NOT a scheduled public hearing topic nor a debate format. Anyone who wants to provide comments at the meeting can do so as part of the regular public input period offered at every session. While public input is usually held at start of the session, it has sometimes been moved to accommodate other agenda discussion items or the availability of presenters. We typically limit the public comment period to thirty minutes, but it may be extended by the Board of Commissioners. Our standard statement about public input is:

“The Public Input Session is held to give citizens an opportunity to speak on any item. The session is no more than thirty minutes long to allow as many as possible to speak. Speakers are limited to no more than three minutes each and may not give their time to another speaker. Speakers are required to sign up in advance. Individuals who wish to speak but cannot because of time constraints will be carried to the next meeting and given priority. We apologize for the tight time restrictions. They are necessary to ensure that we complete our business. If you have insufficient time to finish your presentation, we welcome your comments in writing.”

Several years ago, the Board of Commissioners also adopted ground rules for all public input, which are posted at the front of the meeting room. These ground rules are especially important when we have many speakers on a potentially contentious topic. Among the rules are: disagree with others respectfully, stick to your time limit, and avoid interrupting speakers.

The agenda for an upcoming meeting is usually completed and posted online on the Thursday or Friday prior to Monday meetings. Any person can sign up to get advance email notices of the Board of Commissioners agendas at www.chathamnc.org/enotify. You also may visit https://chathamnc.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx to view agendas once they are posted.

We encourage anyone who wants to comment on any topic to sign up prior to the meeting date, but please bring a printed copy of your comments to the meeting in case we run out of time to hear all speakers. We offer an online option to both sign up to speak and provide your comments at: www.chathamnc.org/publicinput. We do allow public input signup at the meeting, but please do so before it begins at 6 PM. Note that those who sign up in advance will be called first to speak.

By moving the meeting to the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center, we will not be able to stream and record video through the online Granicus system, which is available at the courthouse. However, we expect to have some type of video recording available after the meeting. The conference center is located at 1192 US 64 Business on the west side of Pittsboro near Central Carolina Community College.

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