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PITTSBORO — The moment, around 2 a.m. Wednesday, a work crew took down the Confederate statue from atop the concrete pedestal on which it has stood at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse since 1907, a crowd of about 20 onlookers pining for its removal let out a cheer, witnesses said.
But as news of the statue’s fate — county officials say the metal Confederate solider was “safely and respectfully” dismantled and its components, statue and pedestal, taken to an unspecified “safe location” — spread throughout the morning, reactions were more mixed.
Turning to social media, some county residents applauded the county’s late-night removal, while others mourned.
“Well done,” posted one supporter on Facebook.
“Looks a whole lot better this morning,” another posted on the social media platform.
One of those expressing unhappiness with the statue’s removal called what happened overnight a “disgrace.”
“Sad,” one Facebook post read. “Another piece of history gone.”
“So wrong,” said another. “Embrace history and learn from it.”
Chatham County officials issued a press release at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday announcing that work on removal had begun. Wednesday at 6:42 a.m., after crews had worked through the night and early morning taking the monument down, county officials issued a follow-up press announcement that the removal was complete.
“The last several months have been a painful time for Chatham County,” Chatham County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Dasher said in the press release. “We’ve experienced high emotions, division and even violence which have impacted residents, businesses and the overall feel of our community. What’s clear now is that the overwhelming majority of our residents are eager to move forward.”
“For me,” said Mark Barroso, a Chatham resident supportive of the statue’s removal who spoke with the Chatham News + Record Wednesday morning, “it feels like a new day in Pittsboro.”
“It’s a small step forward in Chatham County becoming the community we want it to be, which is one where everyone is welcome,” said Barroso, who has worked with the activist group Chatham For All in supporting the statue’s removal.
“I feel great about it."
While Barroso was not among the small crowd gathered near the courthouse in the wee hours Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to witness the divisive monument coming down, in the light of day Wednesday, he observed the bare slab of concrete where the monument, hours earlier, had stood.
“It’s interesting,” Barroso said. “My first feeling was it looked kind of empty, and promising all at the same time. Those are contradictory things, but to me it looks like a new start.”
Barroso said his issue with the monument had largely been about its placement at a highly-visible spot on county-owned property..
“It was about prominence, for me,” he said. “What do we want to represent us as a county? I’d like that symbol to be inclusive of all people.”
The statue removal process began just before 11 p.m. with law enforcement closing the northbound lane of 15-501 north of the traffic circle as well as the entrance onto the circle from East Street where trucks, two cranes and other equipment involved in the removal of the monument were located. Police cordoned off the east side of the sidewalk on Hillsboro and the parking lot nearby. Onlookers and media, including television news trucks, were sequestered in the Blair Building parking lot across the street from the courthouse, the statue in view.
Early in the process, a crowd of approximately 50 to 60 people gathered at the Blair Building to watch.
After approximately two and a half hours, a light rain began to fall, and as a result, many of those gathered to watch decided to leave.
About 20 people stayed to witness the moment the statue was taken down.
Local historian, retired history teacher Gene Brooks of Pittsboro, on Wednesday morning had not yet seen for himself the bare spot where the statue had stood, but he’d heard the news of its removal.
While he declined to comment, Brooks acknowledged the removal of the monument, erected in 1907 to honor Chatham County’s Civil War veterans, was “sad.”
Brooks had joined the Winnie Davis Chapter #259 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in filing a complaint in Superior Court in October, aiming to prevent the county removing the statue. The effort was unsuccessful and on Nov. 13, Superior Court Judge Susan Bray denied a request for an injunction, allowing the county to proceed with removing the monument.
“It’s a sad thing to see,” Brooks said when contacted Wednesday.