It’s just a thing

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 10/25/19

When my neighbor Mary celebrated a birthday in late August, many of her friends observed the occasion by sending her a birthday card.

Savoring the memory, Mary neatly arranged the couple dozen …

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It’s just a thing

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When my neighbor Mary celebrated a birthday in late August, many of her friends observed the occasion by sending her a birthday card.

Savoring the memory, Mary neatly arranged the couple dozen birthday greetings — all of them standing open at 45-degree angles for optimal display — atop her dining room table.

There the arrangement of cards stayed for a couple of weeks until Mary, deciding it was time to mothball the mementos, set about gathering up the cards.

While so engaged, Mary, with an errant elbow, accidentally knocked a ceramic keepsake from a dining room shelf. The figurine — one part of a two-piece set made for her by a friend and in her possession for the last three decades, give or take — shattered when its short flight ended, as gravity dictated, on the wooden dining room floor.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” Mary said, recalling the moment — which still clearly troubled her — during a recent conversation.

Aiming to reassure my friend, who was still feeling the pang of loss over the time-cherished item, I called her attention to a silver lining: At least, I said, one of the figurines remained unscathed.

And further from my well of sympathetic wisdom, I also offered this: “And it’s just a thing.”

Mary, whose own well of wisdom is fortified by a stream of years longer than mine, nodded agreement.

“I know,” she said.

It’s just a thing.

So, too, is the now-controversial metal statue of a Confederate soldier, still poised, for the moment, overlooking from its keystone position at the historic Chatham County Courthouse, the confluence of traffic from U.S. 15-501 and U.S. 64.

Yes, it’s a monument to Chatham County’s Confederate soldiers — “Our Confederate Heroes,” it even says, and detractors and champions will debate those words — but it’s not an ideal, it’s not a principle.

It’s a metal statue.

It’s just a thing.

Though a fixture of Pittsboro — none of us alive today know Chatham County’s seat of government without it — the thing mostly went unnoticed for more than a century.

Certainly nobody got upset — or voiced it if they did — when they drove past it or when the Daughters of the Confederacy placed a wreath at its base every April in observance of Confederate Memorial Day, as someone from the organization has done every year since it was erected in 1907.

It’s just a thing.

Removing that thing — as our elected county leaders, like it or not, have chosen by majority vote to do — only removes that thing.

It doesn’t wipe clean the annals of history or strip anyone of their Southern heritage, as some who champion the statue’s continued existence in place seem to fear it’s removal will. The Civil War — fought during the long ago years of 1861 to 1865 — still happened, statue or not, and the intricate history of that conflict is available for all to review. I recommend the local library as a good place to start.

If, as others have expressed, that piece of metal statuary symbolizes a racist past, removing a piece of sculpted metal indeed removes the symbol but doesn’t remove the past or, certainly, racism itself, which hasn’t been eradicated yet.

Folks may still disagree about this thing. It’s our right to have opinions.

And folks are free to argue, if they choose. Be they local or bused in from elsewhere, people can congregate, as some have the last few weekends, in Pittsboro, where they can gnash their teeth, they can cuss under their breath — or over it, if they wish — and they can push and shove and shout and fuss and mistreat other people, on one side of the street or the other, from now until New Years.

But it won’t change a thing.

So here were are now, the late latter half of 2019, with folks sketching a proverbial line in the sand in Pittsboro because of a thing.

Sanford Road has come to represent that line.

On one side, literally, sits Horton Middle School — formerly the segregated black high school, now, in more enlightened times, a school for the education of children of all ethnicities — and on the other, erected in protest of the county’s statue removal decision, flies a Confederate flag.

Both of those are things, too, of course. But one of those things represents the present and the future while the other represents a long distant past.

Which side you choose is up to you, of course.

But I know which side I want to be on and it’s not the side with the outdated relic.

And nothing — for sure, no mere thing — will change my mind about that.


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