The scene in the center of Pittsboro Saturday was one that’s become familiar: two groups – dozens of people in all – stand sentry, divided over the fate of a Confederate monument that has stood in front of Pittsboro’s historic courthouse since 1907.
Saturday hit just more than two weeks before The United Daughters of the Confederacy are due to respond to a Chatham County Board of Commissioners Aug. 20 4-1 vote to begin the removal process, which could end with the statue being taken down Nov. 1.
And it follows months of debate on the fate of the monument to Confederate veterans and sometimes raucous meetings before the board, with people on both sides of the issue lining up by the dozens to support the statue as a symbol of honor for those who fought for the South – or an emblem of hate and blatant racism sitting at the historic door to the old courthouse.
On one side of Hillsboro Street, those supportive of the statue’s pending removal held signs with slogans like “Make Racism Wrong Again”.
On the other side, it appeared many more people – from all areas – were supportive of the monument’s current position, singing “Shout, shout the battle cry of freedom” and “Down with the eagle, up with the cross.”
This lasted from late morning until about 9 p.m., with different people coming and going as the day went on, and some observers said said anti-monument protestors outnumbered Confederate sympathizers throughout the day.
Video timeline by Charlotte Ririe/Our Chatham
“We’re not allowed to say anything,” said one man, his clothes bearing the Confederate flag.
In fact, silence was all that emanated from some downtown Saturday.
Lance Spivey, the head of the Heirs to the Confederacy, did not return messages for comment. Nor did the UDC.
But I asked several of those in attendance on the pro-statue side why they thought the long-present statue had become a point of such vocal contention in town, especially in the last few months.
A woman, who would only tell me that her first name was Becky, told me that “a lot of hate has been stirred up that’s completely unnecessary.”
Across the street, Briar Chapel resident Karen Gupton said that, to her, the statue represents racism, oppression and inequality. She relayed the time that she first saw the monument.
“We came down here for a visit,” she said. “My daughter went to the courthouse for basically a field trip. So, I went down here because she wanted to show [the courthouse] to me. And I look up and I see the statue and I’m like, ‘We have to leave now.’”
Gupton said she was “extremely offended” by the monument’s position in front of the courthouse.
“That told me that, as a person of color,” she said, “there is no justice for me here.”
Anderson Ritter, a student at Woods Charter, also said that the monument represented racism.
“I think it is a memorial to the Confederacy,” Ritter said, “but the Confederacy was also a group that held ideas that I don’t think should be memorialized.”
The events of Saturday, which have mirrored happenings in other areas where statues or memorials were either pulled down – such as in Durham and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – or removed as was the case in the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But the events also represent a much broader debate around the country, with social media aflame as people espouse hate from one side or the other. The left is pointing to the right – particularly evangelicals and President Donald Trump – and saying the sharp divide falls on them.
The same thing is said in reverse.
The only agreement is that a very divisive nation exists right now, with just over a year left in the 2020 election cycle.