Judge Delays Decision On Chatham Confederate Statue

Nov 7, 2019

The Confederate Monument in Chatham County was erected in 1907.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Traffic moved slowly but orderly through Pittsboro, in Chatham County, on a recent day. Karen Howard, the driver, reached the traffic circle that can't be avoided. It's the circle around the Old Chatham courthouse.

"The monument itself is large, but the soldier is small," Howard said. "When you're driving through town you might actually miss what's on top of there."

What you can't miss, these days, is the fence surrounding the Confederate statue, erected in 1907, and the front of the courthouse and museum.

Earlier this year, Howard and her fellow County Commissioners voted to remove the Confederate statue from the middle of town. The resolution passed 4 to 1. Demonstrations - Confederate sympathizers and white supremacists on one side, anti-racists on the other – followed.

In late October, two of the anti-racist demonstrators were arrested. Calvin James Megginson, of Pittsboro, and Timothy James Osborn, of Carrboro, were charged with inciting a riot and affray.

"We respect every resident's right to peacefully assemble in nonviolent protest or support of their beliefs," Chief Deputy Charles Gardner said in a statement. "However, unlawful or violent behavior will not be tolerated."

On Friday, a judge was expected to decide whether to grant an injunction that could halt Chatham County's plan to remove the statue. That hearing has been delayed.

"Pittsboro is a sweet little town," said Howard. "I am very sorry that the protests have had a terrible effect on business. People don't want to come into town. They don't want to risk coming in when the rallies are happening."

 

Karen Howard has been on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners since 2014.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

Howard, the only African American on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, says she considered all arguments surrounding the future of the statue and why it should remain where it is. But only one argument rang the loudest.

A descendant of enslaved people, Howard said she took offense to those who use the term "our" when they mean "yours."

"There was a very much a nationalistic approach," she said. "'It's ours, you're taking away our history, you're destroying our past and you want to throw away our monuments.'"

When Howard first moved to Chatham County in 2007, she quickly got involved in politics. She first served on the Chatham County School Board, and now on the Board of Commissioners.

For the first time... I have had black people in this community reach out to me to say 'thank you.' - Karen Howard

"For the first time, in my years as a commissioner, I have had black people in this community reach out to me to say ‘thank you,' approach me on the street to say thank you for speaking up," Howard said.

Chatham County is 82 percent white people and less than 13 percent black people. Howard says she believes many of the people who are rallying for and against moving the statue are not from Chatham. So she understands why some of the older black families may have fears of protesting publicly.

Howard says she can speak out because she doesn't fear retribution at work and is secure financially and in her neighborhood.

"I grew up in the Bahamas, I grew up in a country where everybody was black," she said. "That does not absolve me of a responsibility to represent my people. And not just black people, but marginalized voices."

The Chatham Board of Commissioners had set a November 1st deadline to take action if the United Daughters of the Confederacy did not present a plan for the statue's removal. The UDC was granted a temporary order to halt the process.