In Edenton, progress of removing a Confederate monument has stalled, dividing the town
There are not as many Confederate monuments on display across North Carolina as there used to be.
In recent years, large memorials to the Confederacy have come down in places like Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Wilmington. In the year that followed George Floyd’s death, at least 24 such statues and monuments were removed across the Tar Heel State, according to data tracked by WUNC.
But in some smaller towns, like Edenton, removals haven’t moved as quickly.
If you’re driving on U.S. Highway 17, close to the line dividing Bertie and Chowan counties, a new billboard might catch your eye. It reads: “Welcome to Edenton. We Apologize for the Confederate Statue. We’re Working on It.”
“The group decided to do that as a way to continue to up the pressure,” said Valerie Batts.
Batts is a member of “Move the Monument Coalition Edenton-Chowan.” The billboard message made its debut in January, with help from the coalition and from the civil rights group, Emancipate NC.
“This is happening all over eastern North Carolina,” Batts said. “We were hoping it wouldn’t come to that.”
For more than a year, a small group of Edenton residents have spent their Saturday afternoons quietly demonstrating on the walkways near the Confederate monument, which prominently stands in the middle of Broad Street as though it is protecting the waterfront.
John Capitman often walks up and down a nearby sidewalk carrying a sign that reads: “This Statue Stands for Repression.”
“What keeps me coming out here is statues like this are symbols of the false cause,” Capitman says. “Symbols of real belief that slavery was okay.”
Capitman says the statue remains in place because many local residents have a confused sense of Civil War history, even after the town’s Human Relations Commission recommended its removal.
On the other side of Broad Street, Michael Dean – a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – says he is not confused at all. He says state law is on his side, the general statute that says a monument can’t be moved to a place of lesser importance.
And as for that billboard?
“The billboard they put up infuriated a lot of people here because they have the nerve to speak for other people,” Dean said. “They don’t have the right to apologize for me or anyone else, as far as I’m concerned.”
Factions in the town nestled in the Inner Banks have been disagreeing over the monument’s future for nearly three years. It started in August 2020 — less than three months after the murder of Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis sparked protests across the country — when the mayor of Edenton appointed a human relations commission to study what to do with the monument. A year later, that commission recommended the monument’s removal, after a narrow 7-6 vote. And in February 2022, the Edenton Town Council voted to remove the monument.
But instead of acting, the town ceded ownership of the monument to Chowan County. Leaders with the county sat on their hands, too. Meanwhile, the Chowan Herald found no record of ownership for the monument at register of deeds office. Then, in December, the United Daughters of the Confederacy sued the town.
And so, the monument remains — for now.
The Town of Edenton and United Daughters of the Confederacy are negotiating the next move in this twisted tale. One important note about this Confederate monument is that it was dedicated in 1909, in front of the courthouse. But it was moved from the courthouse to the waterfront in 1961.
There’s a chance it could move for a third time.
WUNC Digital Producer Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.