People from across North Carolina got the chance to speak out on the fate of the confederate monuments on the Raleigh state capitol grounds. A special committee is tasked with recommending if the statues should remain where they are, or be moved to a state historic site.
Many speakers wanting to have their say about those three confederate monuments at Capitol Square have done so online. But this was the first time the Confederate Monuments Study Committee got to hear and see the public face-to-face. And there were ground rules. Ten, to be exact.
“Number five: that speakers be allowed to speak for one minute then a red warning card shall be held up after 30 seconds has passed," said David Ruffin, chairman of the committee.
The gathering was very organized, in the auditorium of the Archives and History State Library Building. People signed in and that number correlated with their seat.
The first person on the list to speak was an attorney from Louisburg.
"My client opposes the removal of these statues,” said Boyd Sturges, a lawyer representing the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Nearly 60 people walked up to the microphone to address the five-member committee. Several were representing organizations like Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, the North Carolina Order of the Confederate Rose and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars. And then there was Dennis Johnson of Willow Spring.
“Appreciate you letting me speak. I am just a regular redneck from Johnston County and I think it’s wrong to move these monuments," said Johnson. "It’s against the law. It’s stupid.”
Johnson was part of a large majority of the speakers who said they wanted to keep their history and the three Confederate Statues where they are. Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wants them moved to Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site in Four Oaks, about 50 miles away.
“I can’t believe we got a governor that would even consider that. It’s not just wrong, it’s against the law," said Johnson. "Thank you for letting me speak.”
In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law that prevents the removal or relocation of Confederate monuments on public property, without permission from the State Historical Commission. Then-Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed it.
Monuments Help Define Raleigh's Capitol Square
At Capitol Square, it’s hard to miss the three monuments up for debate. If you have ever driven up Hillsborough Street towards downtown, there is a 75-foot-tall monument with a confederate artillery soldier on top, holding a gun. Then, there’s the Henry Lawson Wyatt monument, commemorating the first confederate soldier killed at the Battle of Bethel. The third statue the governor wants moved is the Monument to North Carolina Women of the Confederacy.
Joanne Clayton, from Knightdale, is the daughter of former Congresswoman Eva Clayton. She told the committee the pride people feel for these monuments is nothing more than quote “fable tales.”
“It’s not reality," said Clayton. "The reality is slavery was wrong. The confederates were traitors and we have statues to traitors that need to be removed.”
The last person to speak was Melissa Mason of Raleigh. She lives two blocks from Capitol Square.
“I am not supporting destroying the statues in anyway, or any offense to anyone," said Mason. "However, I don’t want to walk past them anymore, I want them moved. I want them gone. They don’t belong where they’re at.”
It will be a while before the committee comes up with its recommendation. Meanwhile, without counting emails and other correspondence, close to 4,300 public comments have been registered online, on the topic.