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Group to ask Chatham County to give soldier statue back to Daughters of Confederacy

Rumored protest draws monument supporters to Pittsboro Confederate statue

In response to a rumored protest at the courthouse before before a March 2019 Chatham County Commission meeting, sheriff's deputies placed barriers around the “Our Confederate Heroes” statue as about 30 monument supporters gathered.
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In response to a rumored protest at the courthouse before before a March 2019 Chatham County Commission meeting, sheriff's deputies placed barriers around the “Our Confederate Heroes” statue as about 30 monument supporters gathered.

Chatham County has moved a Monday meeting to a larger room to hear a request that the county return a Confederate monument to the group that donated it.

The statue, which stands outside the historic courthouse grounds off the downtown traffic circle, has drawn attention from people who want to see it moved and those who want it to stay.

The 6 p.m. meeting will be held at the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center at 1193 Business 64 West, which can seat 680 people, according to its website. The commissioners usually meet in the historic courthouse.

“We expect considerable public interest in this meeting,” Chairman Mike Dasher. “The Ag Center will accommodate a much larger crowd.”

No decision will be made Monday, he said.

“All we really have is a group of citizens who want to make a presentation to us and make a legal argument for how and why the statue could be returned to its rightful owners,” Dasher said.

The Chatham County statue was erected in 1907 during the height of the Jim Crow era. It was a gift from the Daughters of the Confederacy and is inscribed “To the Confederate Soldiers of Chatham County / Our Confederate Heroes.”

The group Chatham For All has gathered signatures on a petition asking that the statue be returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said Mark Barroso.

The group believes the county can return the statue, Barroso said. But state legislation passed in 2015 by the the Republican-controlled General Assembly gave local governments specifi guidelines.

Chatham County Attorney Richard “Jep” Rose said the commissioners do have options.

“When they decide to do something, they can move it to another place with similar prominence, according to the legislation,” he said. “Or they can leave it.”

There are about 100 Confederate statues or monuments protected by the legislation.

Confederate statues

Confederate statues were torn down in Durham and Chapel Hill after protests.

A soldier statue in Durham similar to the one in Pittsboro was toppled in August 2017. A year later, protesters on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill pulled the monument known as “Silent Sam” from its pedestal on McCorkle Place near Franklin Street. But one in Winston-Salem was recently removed without incident.

Barroso said he’d like Chatham County to follow the example of Winston-Salem.

“Of course, that was a different situation because the statue was on private property,” he said. “But I think we can do it peacefully in Pittsboro.”

Before last month’s meeting, it didn’t feel peaceful.

After rumors of a protest circulated online, Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson ordered barricades placed around the statue and limited access to the front entrance of the building. But nothing materialized, except for about 25 statue supporters gathering near the barricades before the meeting.

Commissioner Jim Crawford hopes for the same peaceful outcome Monday.

“What the citizens choose to do, pro or con, is on them,” Crawford said. “But we want everybody to think about other folks’ safety, and you know, maybe take it down a little bit. This is a divisive issue. It is an issue about a symbol, which has historic meaning, but the meaning in contemporary times is also what’s prompting this now.”

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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.
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