Hundreds debate fate of Pittsboro Confederate Statue

  • More than 500 people packed the Chatham County Agricultural and
    Conference Center Monday night to voice their minds on the Confederate memorial
    in the center of downtown Pittsboro.
  • The meeting, which began at 6:02, drew people – young and old –
    from Chatham and the surrounding areas.
  • At the beginning of the meeting, Commissioner Walter Petty
    announced his resignation from the board after serving for three terms. He
    spoke of his accomplishments, especially bringing money into the town without
    raising taxes. Petty half-jokingly urged the board to finally fix “the land
    issue at the hospital.” Petty received a standing ovation after he finished
    speaking, and fellow commissioners and residents thanked him during the public
    comment session of the night for his service.
  • Before the comments on the Confederate monument began, a large
    group of Latino Jordan Matthews High School students spoke about their
    experiences in Orgullo Latinx Pride, a youth group run by El Vinculo Hispano
    (The Hispanic Liaison). Many of the students spoke about their undocumented
    citizenship status in the U.S., and a few cited
    fears of deportation by Immigration and Customs enforcement officers.
    The students praised the program for increasing their confidence, helping
    prepare them for college and engaging them civically in the community through
    volunteer work and activism. Many spoke of gaining a “voice” through their time
    at OLP.
  • Also in the meeting, the board unanimously passed a measure which
    urged the expansion of Medicaid. Petty spoke out against the bill, but he voted
    for it anyway because he said he could not come up with a better solution to
    the current state and national medical-care crisis.  
  • A town staff member said 63 people were signed up to speak about
    the monument, but not all of them showed up. Before the public comment session
    began, Board Chair Mike Dasher urged the crowd to be civil and to follow the
    example of a group of fifth graders from Perry Harrison Elementary, who sent
    him letters about the statue.
  • The comment session began with a presentation by Howard Fifer, who
    introduced Chatham for All, a group that opposes the statue. The group also
    presented the commissioners with a petition signed by more than 900 people,
    which asked for the removal and return of the state to the Daughters of the
    Confederacy. Fifer argued that, because the statue was privately owned by the
    Daughters of the Confederacy but on public land, it could be removed at any
  • Other speakers for the group included Reverend Carl Thompson, a
    pastor at Word of Life Christian Outreach Center and former commissioner, who
    cited the Bible and called for dialogue in the spirit of truth and
    reconciliation.  Thompson, who is black, also said walking past the statue
    when he was a commissioner felt “surreal” because he was trying to advocate for
    all in Chatham while a statue he said opposed civil rights stood outside. As
    Thompson was speaking, one heckler told him to “shut up.”
  • Emily Moose, a Chatham resident and current planning board member,
    also spoke for the group. She said she was raised learning the “Lost Cause”
    narrative she said was perpetuated by the Daughters of the Confederacy, but
    came to believe it was a way to justify white supremacy. Moose also said the
    town is losing potential sources of economic investment because of the
    unwelcome message the statue sent.
  • After a five-minute break, the board returned to hear more public
    comments, which were supposed to be limited to three minutes per speaker. Some
    speakers on both sides ignored the time limit.
  • Many of the statue’s supporters said it didn’t represent slavery
    or racism, but rather the sacrifice of the men who died during the Civil War
    fighting for the Confederacy. Some supporters of the monument also said that
    their ancestors didn’t personally own slaves.
  •  Many statue opponents
    pointed out that the statue was erected in 1907 by the United Daughters of the
    Confederacy, decades after the end of the Civil War. These supporters of the
    monument said the UDC maintained a close relationship with the Ku Klux Klan and
    helped promote revisionist history about the Civil War.
  • Throughout the night, the rhetoric became increasingly more
    charged. Some pro-statue supporters accused the other side of being paid
    activists attempting to get rid of “anything Southern” and asked the board if
    they would consider removing other historical sites and monuments to veterans
    of other wars.
  • Those opposing the statue also made comments. Take John Wagner, a
    Chatham resident, who said having the statue in front of the courthouse would
    be tantamount to allowing the statue of school shooter to be placed in front of
    a school. After some audible dissent from the crowd, Dasher made a renewed call
    for civility.
  • Though Steve Marley and Wendy Hayslett signed up to speak, both
    were notably absent. The two are part of various groups which have been present
    at events at UNC-Chapel Hill since the fall of Silent Sam last year. Hayslett
    was among a group of demonstrators who marched  armed onto UNC’s campus
    earlier this year.
  • The board motioned to refer the matter of the statue to “staff”
    and will check with an attorney about their legal options for removing the
    statue. Dasher clarified “this motion is not to remove the statue or anything
    close to it.”
  • The board also discussed a legislative hearing request for a
    rezoning of a Moncure property to allow an ABC store to be built there. They
    held a quasi-judicial hearing for a conditional use permit, with two speakers
    presenting on the issue under oath.
  • All in all, the meeting stretched more than four hours, with the
    board finally adjourning around 10:15 p.m.

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