Rumors of a protest over Chatham County’s “Our Confederate Heroes” monument in Pittsboro ramped up last week and eventually spread like butter melting over a piping hot ear of corn — person …
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Rumors of a protest over Chatham County’s “Our Confederate Heroes” monument in Pittsboro ramped up last week and eventually spread like butter melting over a piping hot ear of corn — person to person, on social media, in phone calls to neighbors and friends and conversations on the street.
A long-time Chatham County resident stopped in the offices of the News + Record on Friday morning to say he’d heard organizers were busing in protestors to Pittsboro from out of town; meanwhile, chatter on Facebook hinted at possible clashes between those bent on taking the statue down and those determined for it not to be “Silent Sam’d” away.
But instead of a large-scale demonstration, onlookers who gathered prior to Monday’s meeting of the Chatham County commissioners were treated to nothing else but the sight of other onlookers, clustered in small groups here and there as if waiting for an overdue bus or a pizza to be delivered.
By sunset, hours after having initially gathered, a handful of them remained adjacent to the monument, staving off the pre-spring chill with hands thrust in pockets.
Tuesday dawned with the statue in place, intact.
It was around mid-morning Monday that deputies from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office set up metal barriers at the old courthouse area, around the statue and the traffic circle. It was done “to help facilitate pedestrian foot traffic” in the area, officials said, in advance of two public meetings — one of which, a scheduled meeting of the Chatham County Commissioners, was speculated to have discussion about the statue on its agenda.
It wasn’t on the agenda, but it begged the question: Why the barriers? A deputy was asked about the statue and whether the rumors of a protest were true as he moved barriers into place.
“There’s always something about the statue,” he replied.
Chatham’s monument, one of 100 or so Confederate soldier statues around the state, was dedicated back in 1907, and in 2019 — given what’s happened to civil war-era/themed monuments up the road in Chapel Hill, over in Durham and westward in Winston-Salem recently — its latest chapter is being written. At Monday’s commissioners meeting, officials declared the future of the monument would be a topic of discussion at the board’s April meeting, scheduled for the 15th and to be held far from the monument — at Chatham’s Agricultural Center.
Rest assured that Monday’s non-event was a preamble to what could be a long — and let’s face it, ugly — chapter in Chatham County’s history. Wherever and whenever the book closes, and whether the statue remains in place or is somehow moved, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That happens when two sides are so diametrically opposed on an issue that even an ant can’t find room enough to traverse the middle ground.
Some protestors in the coming weeks and months will say the Confederate statue is a paean to slavery and White Supremacy. It has to go, you’ll hear them say, because it promotes racism.
Others will talk of history and heritage and say it doesn’t represent what you think it does: instead, it honors the sacrifice of brave men who fought to protect their homes and liberties.
We don’t know of any group on record officially seeking to remove or destroy the statue. And no buses showed up Monday night. But given the political and social climate, this discussion was inevitable.
Our knowledge of our own history is woefully inadequate; meanwhile, our role in shaping our future demands perspective and wisdom as we think about the past. It also suggests that we decide now to have constructive, pragmatic and balanced conversations as we move forward. Think dialogue, not monologue — meaning there’s room in the discussion for many voices, but no space for a bullhorn. As one speaker at Monday’s commissioners’ meeting said, as he spoke about the need for civil discourse, “We have an opportunity here to set a good example for our children and for outsiders.”
Regardless of how you feel about the statue, we can’t rewrite history. But what’s said, and what’s done, in the coming weeks and months will be a part of Chatham’s history.
Let’s vow not to stain it.