NAACP, Chatham for All file to participate in statue court case

BY CASEY MANN, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/8/19

PITTSBORO — The legal fight over the ownership of the confederate statue located on the grounds of the Historic Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro may have new participants. The West Chatham Branch of the NAACP and the activist group “Chatham for All” together filed a motion Monday requesting to become defendants in the case.

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NAACP, Chatham for All file to participate in statue court case

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Posted

PITTSBORO — The legal fight over the ownership of the confederate statue located on the grounds of the Historic Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro may have new participants.

The West Chatham Branch of the NAACP and the activist group “Chatham for All” together filed a motion Monday at the Chatham County Justice Center requesting to become defendants in the case which pits the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy against the Chatham County Board of Commissioners following the commissioners’ vote in August to take steps to remove the statue. Also on Monday, the attorneys for the Chatham County Board of Commissioners requested an extension of 30 days, or Dec. 23, in order to respond to the UDC’s original complaint. The original court date scheduled for Friday, Nov. 8, was postponed until Wednesday of next week.

The West Chatham Branch of the NAACP and Chatham for All are being represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, with co-counsel Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP in Raleigh. A statement from the groups notes that the Lawyers’ Committee “represents organizations which spent years organizing to have the county government vote to remove the statue; the groups seek to enter the lawsuit to ensure that the voices of black residents of Chatham are heard.”

“These monuments are a continuing affront to the dignity of African Americans and, just as they did when they were erected, send a message that African Americans are second-class citizens,” said Jon M. Greenbaum, Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director, in the statement. “The fact that this monument is located on court grounds makes the harm all the greater because by all appearances it is a message endorsed by the state.”

Chatham commissioners voted 4-1 on Aug. 19 to terminate an agreement between the county and the UDC allowing for the placement of the monument. That vote has triggered protests and counter-protests on most Saturdays in downtown Pittsboro. It also sparked the erection of numerous Confederate flags in town with one, positioned across the street from Horton Middle School, the former segregated African-American high school named in honor of the slave poet George Moses Horton, drawing significant ire from counter-protesters.

Following an October vote by the board of commissioners to authorize county staff to safely remove and store the statue, the UDC filed a complaint and requested a temporary restraining order and injunction while the court’s determine the ownership. Last week, the UDC was awarded a 10-day temporary restraining order, preventing the county from removing and storing the statue until a hearing on a request for an injunction — previously scheduled for this Friday — was held.

In the motion filed on Monday, the West Chatham Branch of the NAACP, represented by its president Larry Brooks, joined forces with Chatham for All, an organization opposed to the confederate statue. The filing includes affidavits from Brooks, Chatham for All board Chairman (and Chatham Board of Education member) Del Turner and Stephanie Terry, a member of Chatham for All.

The motion states that the statue “has drawn widespread public demonstrations by neo-confederate and alt-right organizations, many of them openly carrying guns, swords and knives and other weapons” and “has become a threat to public safety and a public nuisance.” In Terry’s affidavit, she notes that her grandchildren, who attend Horton Middle School, “expressed fear about their own safety in school, because in their minds, the flag signifies ‘people that hate black people.’” The motion also states that preventing the removal of the monument “directly implicates and would adversely impact [their] interests as civil rights organizations and advocates of the rights of African Americans.

The original notice of hearing filed by the West Chatham Branch of the NAACP and Chatham for All indicated that a court hearing would be held on the matter on Tuesday, Nov. 12 in Superior Court in Orange County which is in the same district as Chatham County. However, it is likely that those motions, as well as the original request by the UDC, will all be heard next week in a single hearing.

Reporter Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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