Timeline of BLM billboard, adjacent Confederate flag

Posted 7/31/20

PITTSBORO — On U.S. Hwy. 64 Business East in Pittsboro, near the intersection with Hank’s Chapel Road, sits a nondescript peach-colored cinderblock building with garage bays.

The property, as …

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Timeline of BLM billboard, adjacent Confederate flag

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Posted

PITTSBORO — On U.S. Hwy. 64 Business East in Pittsboro, near the intersection with Hank’s Chapel Road, sits a nondescript peach-colored cinderblock building with garage bays.

The property, as well as several parcels around it, is owned by Sam White, a Pittsboro resident.

In early 2019, when the Chatham County Board of Commissioners began discussions on the possible removal of the Confederate monument that had been housed on the grounds of the Historic Chatham County Courthouse since 1907, White was the first in Pittsboro to lease a small portion of his land there to a known neo-Confederate group the Virginia Flaggers to erect a flagpole and Confederate flag. The group, which was founded in 2011 in response to the removal of a Confederate flag in Richmond, has erected Confederate flags throughout Virginia and North Carolina.

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

Soon after, the Virginia Flaggers leased another piece of land on the property of Candace Burke on Sanford Road to erect another pole and Confederate flag. The property is across the street from Horton Middle School, named for the slave poet Moses Horton, which prior to desegregation served as the area’s Black high school.

As tensions over the future of the Confederate monument increased, so did the number and frequency of protests in Pittsboro. Late in October, during one of the largest protests Pittsboro had seen to date, opposing sides faced off on Sanford Road south of the courthouse area — pro-Confederates on Burke’s property with the flag and counter-protesters across the street. Several hours into the protest, a backhoe laden with Confederate flags and memorabilia came down Sanford Road toward the protest. Sam White was later identified and cited for driving the equipment on a public road and for a probation violation.

As the controversy rolled on, so did the protests. And the statue was eventually removed in November following a court decision and is being stored at an undisclosed location.

Since then, the Virginia Flaggers Confederate flag on White’s property has continued to fly, though the one across from Horton has long since been removed.

On June 15, the GoFundMe account was created to raise funds to place a Black Lives Matter sign on a billboard on Sam White’s property — he’s been leasing the property to Lamar for years.

The GoFundMe campaigned raised enough money in two days to have the Black Lives Matter sign erected for six months. The organizer, known online only by the initials “LC,” then upped the ante, asking for enough to a full year. In the end, the group raised more than $10,000 and continues to raise more, with extra funds going to groups that fight for social equity such as Chatham Organizing for Racial Equity (CORE) and Emancipate NC.

Nearly a month to the day that the GoFundMe was started, the Black Lives Matter billboard was erected. Several local residents stopped to take photos of the site — a Black Lives Matter billboard next a Confederate flag. Anecdotes on Facebook said that pro-Confederates were hostile to those taking photos.

Communications from Lamar to the GoFundMe organizer which was posted on the Facebook Chatham Takes Action showed that White informed Lamar that he was severing its lease agreement with the company at the end of its term in September.

“We are truly sorry for any inconvenience this may cause,” the company said in the email. “It was unexpected for the land owner to make this decision.”

The billboard will be coming down and it is unclear what will happen to the funds or the future efforts by the organizer, though Lamar noted the there will be a refund for the unused time.

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