Based on a review of legal documents and other evidence, the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy “more likely than not” owns the “Our Confederate Heroes” monument …
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Based on a review of legal documents and other evidence, the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy “more likely than not” owns the “Our Confederate Heroes” monument in downtown Pittsboro, according to Chatham County attorneys.
It’s an argument disputed by the UDC, which asked the Chatham County Board of Commissioners late last week for an extension on the October 1 deadline for a removal plan’s submission.
The memo, drafted by the county’s law firm Poyner Spruill, states that the original “order” issued by the 1907 board of commissioners states the monument “may remain in the care and keeping of the said Daughters,” referring to the Winnie Davis Chapter. It also says that Barbara Pugh, president of the chapter, cited a compiled history of the group that says the monument was “the gift of the Chapter to the county as a memorial to the Confederate Veterans, living and dead.” That history, Poyner Spruill writes, “is the only document we have seen which purports to support the claim that the Monument is owned by the County.”
Based on documents available, the statement concludes, “it appears to us more likely than not that the Monument is still owned by the Daughters.”
The question of ownership has been a significant one in the recent discussion. Pugh reiterated that position in a letter sent over the weekend to Mike Dasher, the chairman of the county’s board of commissioners, and said the commissioners’ “demand” for a removal plan by October 1 was “relatively abrupt.”
The commissioners had voted 4-1 on August 19 to ask the UDC to submit a plan for removal of the monument, which has been the subject of public derision and defense over the last few months. That decision came a little more than a week after Pugh told Dasher in a letter that the monument “should not be illegally moved or altered” and that it would be “inappropriate that we re-imagine the statue in any way.”
The UDC’s request for a deadline, Pugh’s letter states, comes because the chapter is “seeking counsel from all stakeholders to evaluate the issues and options relating to the Monument.” Pugh cites the “many in our community” that support the monument as part of the request.
“Collectively, the supporters of the war monument is a large group, albeit a silent group,” she wrote. “The supporters are a blend of various faiths, of races, of political parties. Many supporters believe, as our members do, that this war memorial has stood for over a century to honor the memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the preservation of the South.”
Dasher told the News + Record on Monday that the UDC’s request would likely not be granted.
“The letter clearly states that they wouldn’t support removing the monument,” he said. “I’m not sure that we’re in really any position to agree to that at this point. If they were saying, ‘Hey, this is complicated and moving a monument is trickier than what we thought,’ I think we would be happy to grant that to them.
“I’m not surprised that they would be looking for more time. But I think, based on what she wrote in the letter, I don’t think that’s something that we’re probably eager to do.”
Pugh did write in the letter that the chapter would “embrace ‘re-imagining’ the area around the old courthouse” by “bringing in MORE historical monuments that honor the courageous deeds of diverse variety of members of our community,” but did not suggest any concrete ideas as to what that would look like.
If the monument was owned by the county, the commissioners would have had their hands tied, as state law says an “object of remembrance” cannot be removed from public property unless it is owned by a private property and is “subject to a legal agreement governing its removal or relocation,” according to the attorney’s memo.
Poyner Spruill’s memo included 10 possible outcomes with the monument, and the statements of the majority of the commissioners reflected some of them. Among the recommendations:
• “The County and the Daughters (as the owner of the Monument) may agree that the Monument be removed to a mutually agreeable location at the expense of the County.” That item states that it would be an “unlikely” scenario since the UDC has publicly stated they believe the monument is owned by the county.
• “Terminate the 1908 Order.” The agreement between the parties, according to the memo, “can be revoked which would terminate the right of the Daughters to maintain their property (the Monument) on County property.” The option also suggests giving the UDC “a reasonable period of time” to remove the statue, and, “if they refused, which is likely,” the County could take further steps.
• Finally, the attorney suggests the board could “assert the County’s First Amendment Free Speech Rights” and say “the location on County property represents government speech that at one time was consistent with the values of the County, but is now inconsistent with those values and conveys a message that is anathema to the views of the County.”
The Commissioners did not discuss anything related to the monument during their September 16 regular meeting. Under the board’s current stated intentions, if a plan is not given, the county will declare the monument a “public trespass” on November 1.
Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.