The future of Chatham County’s Confederate statue remains undecided after talks failed to get started this summer about turning it into a memorial to all veterans.
The Chatham County Board of Commissioners will get an update and could decide the county’s next steps Monday.
Commissioners Chair Mike Dasher spoke earlier this year with Barbara Pugh, president of the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, about options that “would make everybody happy,” he said.
In July, Pugh signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to “meet, cooperate, and work together in good faith to develop a mutually agreeable framework for ‘reimagining’ the monument,” Dasher said. She then said the UDC wasn’t going to talk about it.
“I think that probably the state [UDC] has had some involvement,” Dasher said. I “saw that they had put out a statement that they were not in favor of going this route or any modifications, so I think people kind of get backed into their corners. It’s unfortunate, but that’s where it is.”
The failed talks followed months of community conversations about whether to leave the statue, move it or give it another purpose. The statue is privately owned, although it sits on public ground at the Chatham County Historic Courthouse in downtown Pittsboro.
The state’s 2015 law, which limits the removal and alteration of monuments on public grounds, does not apply to privately owned monuments. Dasher said that makes it the UDC’s responsibility — not the community’s — to do something with the statue.
Pugh did not return calls this week seeking comment. However, in a statement released Aug. 5 to the Chatham News & Record, Pugh said the statue belongs to the county, which would make it a public monument.
“It is inappropriate that we re-imagine the statue in any way” other than as a gift to the county, Pugh said in the statement, which was addressed to the commissioners. The UDC is willing to seek a legal opinion from a judge, she said.
“We understand that each person has their personal opinion and position on the future of the statue,” Pugh said. “It is our hope that the County Commissioners will publicly state that the statue is protected by law and that any unlawful action toward it will not be tolerated. For many citizens of the county, this would be the ultimate conclusion of our civil discourse to make the statue respected and secure.”
Commissioner Karen Howard called the plan to talk with the UDC “a conciliatory and forward-thinking position” in June. This week, she said the UDC’s decision was “disappointing.”
“I did think it was an opportunity for Chatham County to approach this in a more productive and collaborative way than things have been done in other communities, and potentially an opportunity for us to have some reconciliation around the issue and conversations in the community,” Howard said.
The community should drive any conversation about the statue’s future, she said, instead of a directive from the county.
The group Chatham For All asked the commissioners in April to return the monument to the UDC, which gave it to the county in 1907. Another group appealed to the commissioners in May to preserve the statue in its current location.
Monday’s discussion comes on the eve of a UNC-Chapel Hill rally celebrating the Aug. 20, 2018, toppling of the Silent Sam Confederate statue on campus. The “Silent Sam is Down: Anniversary Party!” is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street.
Dasher said he wouldn’t be surprised if at least one commissioner wants to act Monday. Commissioner Jim Crawford argued strongly in June for moving the statue to another prominent location.
Crawford said in an email Wednesday the UDC’s recent statement “is baffling to me.” He is reserving comment on the issue until the commissioners get an update Monday, he said, but still thinks the statue is not appropriate for a government site.
“As a descendant of a Civil War veteran, I empathize with those who seek to respect the sacrifices of 1861-1865,” Crawford said. “In acknowledgment of the outcome and import of that conflict, I hold that it casts a shadow across the United States Constitution and anyone who presumes to conduct public business under its rifle.”
The Chatham County commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19, in the Historic Chatham County Courthouse, located at 9 Hillsboro St. in Pittsboro.