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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : opinion : opinion October 27, 2020

8/25/2020 5:27:00 AM
The Deal To Keep The Statue

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

The monument has a stone full-size Confederate soldier standing atop a pedestal. It is located front and center in the courtyard of the Gaston County courthouse on MLK Way in Gastonia. You can't miss it--it rises more than 30 feet into the air.

It was presented to the county by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1912 and placed in front of the former courthouse location on South Street. At its dedication, the main speaker spoke proudly about white supremacy. It was the 'Jim Crow' era, when Southern whites were reasserting what they considered their supremacy and making sure blacks understood that the Reconstruction period, which ended with a shady political deal involving the 1876 election, was over--and that they had better 'know their place' as servants to and not equals of whites. Many such statues were erected, mostly during the last decade of the 19th Century and first two of the 20th, in front of courthouses or elsewhere on town squares, to send that message to blacks. When it was first erected, there was no significant protest from blacks. They had no power or standing in the community, and as the statue reminded them, they rightly lived in fear of the wrath of whites that sometimes developed into violent acts including lynching. There were some protests, although largely ignored, when the statue was moved to its current location in 1998.

Protests about the statue have recurred in recent years, most notably when nine blacks were murdered at a church prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. That incident sparked many protests across the South and resulted in the Confederate battle flag being removed from the statehouse grounds in Columbia.

Another round of protests occurred in 2017.

Then came 2020 and the George Floyd and Breanna Taylor incidents. The resulting protests resulted in the removal of many such statues from their forboding location in other towns. This time the swell of support for moving the statue extended beyond the black community as many whites recognized it as a symbol of hatred as much or more than as any memorial to an unsuccessful rebellion that threatened to split America in two, with one free nation and one slave nation.

Commission chairman Tracy Philbeck established a 12-member advisory panel chaired by Commissioner Tom Keigher that voted 7-5 in July in favor of recommending commissioners relocate the statue.

On July 28th, at Philbeck's suggestion, commissioners directed Gaston County Attorney Jonathan Sink to work with state lawmakers to put the matter before voters, but legislators indicated no referendum on the statue could be held in 2020; it was too late to get it on the November ballot. The next county-wide election wouldn't be for another two years, likely leaving the statue in place.

Then on August 3rd, after hearing the committee's suggestion and multiple public comments, commissioners took two votes. Chad Brown made a motion to leave the statue where it is, but only Jack Brown joined him on that motion. Then, on a 6-1 vote, commissioners approved a plan to give the statue to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. That group would have up to six months to relocate the statue, and the county would pay the bill--allocating up to $200,000. Philbeck said he would like to see a new statue honoring Gaston County veterans of all wars put where the Confederate monument now stands.

You will no doubt read elsewhere how one woman filed a lawsuit against Philbeck over the statue decision and how the SCV rejected taking the statue resulting in another vote scheduled for the commissioners' meeting Tuesday evening (Aug. 25th). What you won't read is about the behind the scenes deal to keep the statue in place.

First came the lawsuit filed by monument supporter Lisa Carol Rudisill claiming her Constitutional rights had been violated by the decision for “the immediate and impending removal of this historic monument.”

Then, as we understand it, the SCV was told that if they would refuse to accept the statue, the commissioners Brown would put forth their motion again, and this time, expected it would succeed and the statue would not be moved. They were able to use Rudisill's suit as a reason for their refusal, saying they feared that they, too, would be sued.

The meeting begins at 6 PM Tuesday and will, as usual, be telvised on the local govt. channel of Spectrum in Gaston County and can also be seen online on the county website. The statue vote will be the last thing on the agenda.

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