Removed Confederate monument still source of contention in 2020

Posted 12/30/20

PITTSBORO — Though the Confederate monument that stood in front of the Chatham County Historic Courthouse since 1907 was removed in November 2019, the monument continued to be a source of …

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Removed Confederate monument still source of contention in 2020

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Posted

PITTSBORO — Though the Confederate monument that stood in front of the Chatham County Historic Courthouse since 1907 was removed in November 2019, the monument continued to be a source of contention — and a lightning rod for protests — well into 2020.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 in August 2019 to remove the monument and return it to the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But the group filed a lawsuit, first seeking a temporary restraining order and later a preliminary injunction against the removal of the monument. While the temporary restraining order was granted, the group was later denied the preliminary injunction and the statue and its pedestal were removed from the night of Nov. 19 into the next morning to an “undisclosed location” for storage.

On Dec. 30, 2019, the Winnie Davis Chapter of the UDC filed a notice to appeal the Dec. 4 dismissal of the case it filed against the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, Chatham for All and the West Chatham Branch 5378 of the NAACP in the removal of the monument.

In that case, dismissed by Judge Susan Bray, the UDC argued the statue should not be removed as it was a “gift” to the county, referencing a 2015 state law that restricts some monument removals. The county argued that a license housed in the N.C. Archives from the time of the installation of the monument in 1907 notes that it was an agreement for the county to house the statue, but it would remain the property of the UDC.

“The County looks forward to putting this difficult time behind us as we continue to move forward as a community,” a Chatham County statement at the time read. “The components of the monument were transported to a warehouse where they will be preserved and stored until such time as the UDC finds a more appropriate location to place them.”

In March of this year, the News + Record reported on the monument’s role in Chatham, emphasizing the belief by many community members that the monument represented racism.

That article pointed out that protesters on both sides of the monument issue — even months after its removal — still gathered in Pittsboro with opposing signs and sentiments. Commissioner Karen Howard told the News + Record at the time that Chatham was “too early in” to completely assess the monument issue and its impacts.

“I think aside from the initial passion that rose up around the removal of the monument, most people are still where they were,” she said. “I do think it opened a crack, and the conversation has to continue. But I don’t even think we’ve really begun it.”

Confederate monument supporters, many from outside Chatham, have maintained a recurring presence in Pittsboro, often taunting opponents with misogynistic and homophobic slurs. The Pittsboro courthouse became a lightning rod for protests in May 2019, when county commissioners initiated monument discussions. Since then, Confederate supporters and counter-protesting, self-proclaimed “anti-racists,” have squared off repeatedly, oftentimes ending with brawls and assault charges.

In June, one such protest took place, with a widely-circulated Facebook video capturing a Confederate supporter striking a woman with a Confederate flag. The video, taken by Raleigh activist Kerwin Pittman, showed Tommy Parnell of Surry County hitting a woman with a Confederate flag attached to a hockey stick. Following the event, a warrant for Parnell was issued with multiple charges.

At the end of July, Chathamites learned the 24-foot Black Lives Matter billboard — crowd-sourced with a GoFundMe that raised nearly $11,000 — next to the large Confederate flag on U.S. Hwy. 64, would likely be removed.

That’s because Pittsboro resident Sam White — the owner of the property both the sign and flag sit on — decided not to renew his lease for the billboard, according to Lamar Advertising Company, which owns and updates the board. White has been charged with crimes at multiple protests over the Confederate monument.

In early 2019, when the BOC began discussions on the possible removal of the Confederate monument, White was the first in Pittsboro to lease a small portion of his land there to the Virginia Flaggers — a known neo-Confederate group that has erected Confederate flags throughout Virginia and North Carolina — to erect a flagpole and Confederate flag.

In an interview with the News + Record in Oct. 2019, White said, “I really don’t want to bother anybody,” but decided to have the flag erected as “a direct response” to the commissioners’ consideration of removing the monument he said demonstrated “pride in southern heritage.”

The monument also played a role in this year’s Board of Commissioners’ races — with Republican commissioner candidates Jay Stobbs, Jimmy Pharr and then-commissioner Andy Wilkie prioritizing restoring what they coined as “the Veterans Memorial” on their campaign flyers. Wilkie, who lost to current commissioner Franklin Gomez Flores, was the only commissioner to vote against removing the monument in 2019.

It is still unknown where the monument is being stored, or when the UDC will take over responsibility of the statue.

“The last several months have been a painful time for Chatham County,” Commissioner Mike Dasher said in a news release following the monument’s removal. “We’ve experienced high emotions, division and even violence which have impacted residents, businesses and the overall feel of our community.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.

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