Reactions to statue’s removal swift, mixed

Posted 11/29/19

PITTSBORO — The moment, around 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning, a work crew took down the Confederate statue from atop the concrete pedestal on which it has stood at the Historic Chatham County …

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Reactions to statue’s removal swift, mixed

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PITTSBORO — The moment, around 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning, 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 in favor of its removal let out a cheer.

But as news of the statue’s fate — county officials say the metal Confederate solider monument 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.

“Well done,” posted one supporter on Facebook.

“Looks a whole lot better this morning,” another posted on the social media platform.

Others expressed unhappiness with the statue’s removal, calling it 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. last 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 statement announcing 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 the morning after, “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,” he said.

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 was there, observing 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 adjacent to 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 at 2 a.m.

The pedestal on which it had stood was removed around 5:30 a.m. A Greensboro company conducted the work, according to county officials, who said the removal cost paid by Chatham County was $44,000. Chatham County also this year incurred approximately $140,000 in expenses to maintain security around the monument, according to the county and published reports.

Later that morning, local historian and retired history teacher Gene Brooks of Pittsboro had not yet seen for himself the bare spot where the statue had stood, but he’d heard the news of its removal.

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.

The North Carolina Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans later released a statement about the downed monument, saying the organization “is outraged at the latest disturbing action of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners.”

Saying commissioners “manufactured a controversy that was wholly against the will of the people of Chatham County” and invited “agitators to disrupt and harass American Patriots whom are defending the veterans memorial,” the Sons said commissioners had “illegally removed’ the statue “like a thief in the night, undercover of darkness.”

The Sons’ statement notes that the North Carolina United Daughters of the Confederacy “is continuing its law suit against the county and the SCV supports the UDC’s commitment to maintaining the monument at its only legal location, a location this memorial has stood for more than 100 years.”

Chatham For All’s executive committee also released a statement in the aftermath of the statue’s removal.

“Public spaces should uphold public values,” it stated, “and we thank the Chatham County Commissioners for taking this step to symbolically uphold the values of equal protection under the law. We look forward to moving ahead as a loving community, with our neighbors, in this place we all call home.”

According to Chatham For All, more than “1,000 Chatham County residents petitioned, talked with their neighbors, bridged divides, wrote letters, spoke at meetings and respectfully asked our elected leaders to take this legal, long-overdue step to remedy a historical wrong. Supporters included natives and newcomers, folks from all demographics, veterans and civilians, all gathered around this common purpose. We are grateful that so many Chatham County voices have been heard through this process.

“While we recognize this action does not solve wider problems of inequity or systemic injustice,” the Chatham For All statement said, “we deeply appreciate the clear acknowledgment that inequality and justice cannot coexist.”

Mary Nettles, president of the Chatham Community NAACP, said Chatham’s commissioners “have made a very gutsy decision.”

“Chatham County is one of the fastest growing counties in North Carolina,” Nettles told the News + Record. “We have an excellent school system and law enforcement that we admire. Our future is bright.  Now for the sake of all of Chatham County, let’s move forward together, not one step back!”

This past Saturday, despite rainy skies, protesters — on both sides of the statue matter — reconvened in Pittsboro, as they have for many weekends.

The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Pittsboro Police Department with a protest Saturday morning near the Historic Chatham County Historic. Law enforcement authorities monitored the situation throughout the day. No one was arrested.

Pittsboro police, however, responded to a report of damage to the flagpole across the street from Horton Middle School. A Pittsboro Police Department spokesperson confirmed the report of damage to real property, which was reported at 2:33 a.m.

With the statue and pedestal now stored in an undisclosed location, Barroso said there will likely be discussion about the future use of the space the Confederate monument had occupied.

“I know there will be debate about what to put there, if anything,” Barroso said.

His suggestion: plant a tree.

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