No decision yet on Chatham County Confederate soldier statue’s fate

Supporters of keeping a Confederate statue made their case to the Chatham County commissioners Monday night.

But they were outnumbered again by speakers who want the statue removed from the historic courthouse grounds.

The commissioners also heard a presentation about the statue of the soldier by Chatham County historian Gene Brooks. He recommended keeping the statue in its present location.

“We don’t need to erase history,” he said. “We need to learn from it.”

More than 50 people signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting but only about 40 addressed the board.

Linda Briggs asked to keep the statue.

“It pays tribute to the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “Families of soldiers make sacrifices every day and they should be honored and respected. That’s all the statue does. It is representative of soldiers from that time. It could have been from World War I, World War II, Korea or Vietnam. Tearing down the statue is not the way to do that.”

Many of the speakers calling for the removal of the statue kept their comments minimal, saying they opposed having the statue in its present location in downtown Pittsboro.

Rosalyn Darling called for unity in Chatham County.

“This is a forward-looking county,” she said. “We need to do a much better job of working on the things we can agree on. The people who have come to Chatham County are here because we want to be here. I don’t think anybody who has come to Chatham County is trying to tear it apart.”

But the board took no action on the statue installed over a century ago during the Jim Crow era.

Looking at options

Two weeks ago more than 500 people attended a meeting at the Chatham County Agriculture Center where the group Chatham For All asked the commissioners to remove the monument that sits on the historic courthouse grounds.

The commissioners voted 4-1 along party lines then to investigate their ability to remove the statue, asking County Attorney Richard “Jep” Rose to report back on their options.

The commissioners held a 5 p.m. closed session for the “purposes of discussing matters relating to attorney-client privilege” before Monday night’s regular meeting.

Chairman Mike Dasher said the board received a briefing from Rose that included about eight options they could consider during a future meeting.

“He presented a few options,” Dasher said. “I got the sense the board was not ready to act on anything immediately.”

United Daughters of the Confederacy

Chatham For All believes the county can return the statue to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which presented it to the county in 1907. But state legislation passed in 2015 by the Republican-controlled General Assembly restricts local governments from moving statues except under limited conditions.

“We’ve gotten all the public input we can reasonably expect,” Commissioner Jim Crawford said. “So we have to basically look at what the law says, and then do what we think is best in the long run for the county, some type of acceptable solution.

“I’’m glad there were fewer boos. I think the venue [Monday] had something to do with that. The sides are making the same arguments, piling up the same kind of wood. Now the stacks are twice as high.”

The county board’s membership has changed since that meeting, too.

Commissioner Walter Petty, the board’s lone Republican, announced his resignation effective April 30. The Chatham County Republican Party nominated Andy Wilkie last week to replace Petty. The board will have to vote on the recommendation before Wilkie is seated.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.