Old Confederate stirs emotions at city hall hearing

Friday, June 10, 2011
By Nancy McLaughlin
Staff Writer

REIDSVILLE — So many people were drawn to a hearing Wednesday over what to do about a Confederate statue recently toppled by an errant driver that people who rose to speak were asked to leave afterward to allow others to come in the building.

“I can’t remember an issue in my time — and I’ve been here over 19 years with the city — with this many phone calls and emails and personal contacts,” interim City Manager Michael Pearce said.

The Reidsville City Council took no action after the hearing, which took place at City Hall, but the city staff is looking into whether it can be repaired.

The 50,000-pound statue was in the center of a traffic circle at Scales and Morehead streets near the center of town. It was erected in 1910 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

“There’s not much in Reidsville that’s older than the monument,” said Rodney Williams, whose ancestors served in the Confederate army.

In recent decades, the monument has drawn criticism as an example of a lack of sensitivity to the blight of slavery. But those like Williams, who wants the statue repaired and returned to its pedestal as soon as possible, see it as a tribute to a lost generation.

“We’ve got to remember the state of North Carolina asked these men to serve,” Williams said, referring to the Confederate soldiers. “The plantation owners did not ask these men to serve. The governor of North Carolina did.”

Williams is a commander in the N.C. Society of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, a fraternal organization.

The people who have contacted City Hall directly have been more in favor of putting the statue back up, Pearce said. But at Wednesday’s hearing, he said, “there were also people who said let’s move it somewhere else. … Let’s put up a water fountain or a monument for all veterans. One thing we’re not short on is opinions.”

Councilman John Henderson Jr. is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who also served in the Coast Guard during World War II. “I can hear both sides of the issue, and I think people are genuine. However, I would not be one of the people who said the Confederate soldier represented me at all,” Henderson said. “Not to take sides, but it does remind me of slavery.”

Pearce said the city is looking at whether there would be any costs associated with replacing the statue, beyond what insurance will pay. The city also will try and find out whether the Italian marble statue — which already was decomposing, causing it to rub off to the touch like sandstone — can be repaired and put back out into the elements.

There’s also the matter of ownership.

“We can see in the minutes back in 1910 that the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked permission to erect a statue and they said, ‘OK,’ ” Pearce said about city leaders at the time. “And I would have thought that was a gift. But the United Daughters of the Confederacy said, ‘We just meant for you to enjoy it.’

“It’s not a contentious issue. We just agree it needs to be worked out.”

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