By Zachary Horner, Chatham News + Record Staff
As a rumored protest fizzled just outside the walls of the meeting room, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners set aside a date and time to hear public concerns and comments about the “Our Confederate Heroes” statue in front of the Chatham County Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro.
The commissioners’ next meeting, slated for 6 p.m. on April 15, will be held at the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center to allow for presentations and suggestions about whether the statue should remain where it is.
That didn’t stop multiple residents on both sides of the issue from speaking during the public comments period at Monday’s county board meeting, even though the monument wasn’t a topic on the night’s agenda.
Chatham resident Steve Roberts, donning a T-shirt with the image of a monument similar to the Chatham statue, ended his remarks with “God bless the South” as he argued that the Civil War, or at least those in Chatham County who fought for the Confederacy, was not about slavery but about people defending their homeland.
“We have become a people that are offended by anything and everything,” Roberts said. “How in the world can a statue that has stood for 112 years all of a sudden make people shudder with fear? If the statue is removed, does that mean we will have peace and everyone will be happy? I think not.”
Another speaker was Elizabeth Haddix, co-director of the Julius L. Chambers Center for Civil Rights, a nonprofit that, according to its website, is dedicated to “providing low-wealth North Carolina communities with sound legal representation in their efforts to dismantle structural racism.” Haddix, who referred to herself as a “Southerner to (her) core,” called for the statue to come down.
“It is an assault on me as a human and as a civil rights lawyer, as a defender of justice and people’s rights, every time I come around the circle of what is my children’s hometown,” she said. “It can come down without controversy and with great leadership from this board, and I ask that you consider doing just that.”
Parker Stockdale, who said he had ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War, commented that he was “concerned that some people in our midst” misunderstood the place of North Carolina in the Confederacy.
“These people need to become familiar with the history of the state they have decided to relocate to,” Stockdale said. “If some people can’t get over their wounded PC sensitivities, find something else to whine about. You can’t rewrite history. Exercise your hard-won freedom and get the hell out of here.”
Howard Fifer, who said he would be among a group presenting at the April meeting, asked community members to pursue a “civil discourse” about the statue.
“Fellow Chatham County residents, let’s all meet the challenge of this issue with an open mind,” Fifer said. “That means listening to the initial presentations and making any responses in a thoughtful, respectful way. We have an opportunity here to set a good example for our children and for outsiders.”
The commissioners made no comments on the public speakers.
The meeting came after what can only be termed a “gathering” of individuals outside the courthouse by the statue that started around 4 p.m. Multiple people milled about in the area and talked amongst themselves. The Chatham County Sheriff’s Office had set up partitions around the statue and the brick walkway in front of the Historic Courthouse.
Lt. Sara Pack, the sheriff’s office’s public information officer, told the News + Record that the partitions were designed to “help facilitate pedestrian foot traffic in and around the traffic circle” prior to the commissioners meeting and the Pittsboro Board of Commissioners’ workshop covering Chatham Park’s tree protection ordinance at the same time.
“Our intent is to keep pedestrians and motorists safe as groups head to/from these meetings, especially those moving around the traffic circle,” Pack said in an email. “In short, our increased presence is largely to ensure individuals have safe access to these public meetings where they can freely and peacefully express their opinions. As always, our deputies will continue to protect lives, constitutional rights and property on behalf of Chatham County residents.”
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