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Hillsborough Mayor Reconciles Town's Confederate Legacy

Orange County Historical Museum

In the wake of the mass shooting last week in South Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory has joined a growing number of Southern governors who are moving toward abolishing the Confederate battle flag from things like government buildings and here in North Carolina--license plates.   

Hillsborough is one of the oldest towns in the state with a strong legacy tied to the Civil War. The town is now faced with questions about its historical Confederate markings and what is appropriate going forward.

Tom Stevens, Mayor of Hillsborough, says there are not many visible Confederate flags in Hillsborough, but the legacy of the Civil War still has a big impact on the town's identity.

"One of the things we are doing as a community is recognizing it is not just about the battles but about the people and the impact," Stevens said. "And also picking up what was the role of slavery and how did that impact our history."

Credit Orange County Historical Museum /
"Confederate Memorial" remains above the Orange County Historical Museum. The shadows of the letters "Public Library" can be seen underneath.

Recently, Stevens said Hillsborough has found itself focusing on one site in particular. Right now, the Orange County Historical Museum has the words "Confederate Memorial" displayed on its building's facade.

Back in 1934, the United Daughters of the Confederacyraised money to build a public library and named it the "Confederate Memorial Public Library." In the 1980s, the library moved out and the historical museum moved in. The words "Public Library" were removed but the first two words stayed. Stevens says the words are now causing a stir in Hillsborough.

"The town happens to own the building so we were called upon with, 'What do we want to do as a town?' Do we keep the words 'Confederate Memorial' or not?"

Stevens, along with the director of the museum, wants the lettering taken down because he said it is not a memorial and is turning people away who disagree with the wording. But as mayor,  Stevens said he is "in many ways the guardian of a set of community conversations regardless of [his] personal opinion."

The words on the building are staying there for now. Nevertheless, Stevens said things like the Confederate flag are being used more as a symbol of hate and that he does not want his town to be mistaken for anything similar.

"[The Confederate flag] does not have any place for either government or folks who want to have access to the broad base of our community," he said. "Our communities should be welcome to everybody."

Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
Charlie Shelton-Ormond is a podcast producer for WUNC.
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