Pro-Confederate group invited lawmakers to a party, and protesters showed up, too

Protesters shouting “Black Lives Matter” were waiting for legislators and legislative staff Tuesday night outside a reception at the United Daughters of the Confederacy house in downtown Raleigh.

The reception hosted by the North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans and the protest come during the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments on public property.

About a half-dozen protesters lined the sidewalk outside the house, with about the same number of men wearing Confederate symbols watching them from the lawn. And while the group of protesters was small, they were vocal in their opposition.

“Do you represent your black constituents by going into the Confederate house?” Heather Ahn-Redding, an organizer with Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action, shouted as a group entered the reception.

In an interview, Ahn-Redding said it is important to know who the Confederate groups are influencing.

“We understand they’re trying to influence legislators to protect the monument law, and we don’t think it’s okay for any legislator to support racist Confederate groups,” she said. A 2015 law prevents moving monuments from public property under most circumstances.

Frank Powell, the organization’s spokesman, said the Sons of Confederates is not contributing to racial divisions.

“We’re not about race at all,” he said.

State Reps. Larry Pittman and Michael Speciale are greeted during a reception at the United Daughters of the Confederacy house in downtown Raleigh on Tuesday night, Feb. 5, 2019. The reception sponsored by the North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans and the protest come during the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments on public property. TRAVIS LONG tlong@newsobserver.com

This is the second legislative reception the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans has hosted in the past year.

The North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans has become more vocal in the last year as debates raged over Confederate monuments.

Powell said the group decided to host the parties to be more involved in legislative issues.

“It’s more of a meet-and-greet so we can meet the people who represent us and let them see us,” Powell said. “We talk to them throughout the year on different issues.”

A handful of legislators arrived at the reception in the first half-hour, including Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County and Rep. Michael Speciale of New Bern. As the legislators left the reception, a group of Confederate hosts escorted them across the street while a protester who would not give his full name yelled that the monuments were going to come down.

One of the men watching the protesters confronted a woman who dropped her jacket on the lawn.

“You have to pick your coat up or you will go to jail,” he said.

One man left the party and approached a protester. As he walked away, he showed the protester his middle finger.

Though the 2015 law protects monuments on public property, the issue is not settled.

Last year, protesters at UNC-Chapel Hill tore down the statue known as Silent Sam, and university leaders still haven’t decided the statue’s outcome.

Meanwhile, former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt announced her resignation last month along with the removal of the statute’s pedestal, The News & Observer reported. The next day, the UNC Board of Governors told Folt to leave months earlier than she had planned, the N&O reported.

House Bill 20, filed this week, would require the state to remove the monument and pedestal from UNC-Chapel Hill and give it to the state Department of Cultural and Natural Resources for relocation to a Confederate cemetery.

House Bill 10 and its companion, Senate Bill 19, would repeal the 2015 law.

Members of the state Historical Commission cited the law when the majority decided they could not recommend moving Confederate monuments from the state Capitol grounds as Gov. Roy Cooper wanted, The N&O reported.

Susan Reynolds, who was wearing a T-shirt with the words “Southerners for Historical Truth,” attended the protest Tuesday. She said the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy “try to amend our history and the way that we talk about it so that we ignore some of the really nasty things that happen in our history.”

Reynolds, who lives in Chapel Hill, said it’s important to let legislators know that people want the 2015 law repealed.

“People in our communities have said over and over again that monuments to hate and hateful heritage like Sons of Confederate Veterans stand for make people uncomfortable,” she said. “We want to stand alongside our community members to create a history that we talk about that is inclusive of everybody’s rights and everybody’s lived experience.”

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