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Alamance County commissioner addresses controversial comment about slavery

ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- An Alamance County commissioner is facing backlash after he made a controversial statement inside a public meeting.

Tim Sutton described his family's former slaves as "workers" in the middle of Monday night's county commissioners meeting.

"It's my understand that when he died, Sarah, my great-grandmother, that some guys on the farm, now you can call them slaves if you want to, but I would just call them workers, that they raised a good bit of my family," Sutton said. "And that when the time came, my great-grandmother gave them land. I don't know whatever took place after that. They didn't leave me any, but the bottom line is I'm not going to be a part of an assault on logic and assault on the history of this country and the heritage of this area and this country and change an opinion that I've got about it due to political correctness."

After Monday night's meeting turned into a history lesson, Sutton weighed in.

His comment set off a firestorm on social media.

FOX8 talked to Sutton following that comment. He said the comment was taken completely out of context.

Sutton stayed firm on that point when we called him. He said people put words in his mouth and explained this is what he meant to say:

"I told you point blank that of course there was slavery, of course it was bad, of course there were things that we shouldn't be willing to discuss and not be proud of," Sutton said on the phone Wednesday. "I told you that, twice now, and my point was, clearly, I was talking about one farm and one family. People are just looking to jump on you."

Sutton said his great-grandfather fought with the Confederacy, and Sutton says he's a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

He called the "two or three" people who lived on his family's property "tenant farmers" and claims they were also given land.

"I was told that our family had loyal people that loved our family and we loved them, and when our great-grandfather died, I was told that they raised the boys," he said.

He did not say whether they were paid.

"My initial reaction was, I think if they were workers somebody's owed some money," said Barrett Brown, president of Alamance NAACP. "But it struck me that it was just factually inaccurate, and it is part of the systemic racism that exists in America."

We shared Sutton's comments with the Alamance County community.

"Oh it is definitely an insult," said Michael Flatt, who lives in Burlington.

Most of the people we approached did not want to give their opinions on camera.

"Well I think it's all semantics. No one's perfect, but in my view the mainstream media wants to stoke racism," said Darren Johnson, who lives in Mebane.

Sutton also blamed the media for what he calls "reactionary politics" and blowing his comments out of proportion.

"What is a slave? What is the definition?" Sutton added. "And sure, the bad definition is there. I clearly believe it's there, but I don't believe what I was referring to is that."

Brown says when it comes to slavery, there is no debate about what happened.

"No, it was a mistake, people were on the wrong side of history, and they ought to admit that, and then we can begin the difficult work of moving forward, but you got to own it," Brown said.

Sutton was elected to his current seat on the commission last year. He also served as a county commission for two decades prior to that, before he lost his first election in 2014.