GRAHAM, N.C. — The nationwide debate over Confederate statues is hitting close to home in the Piedmont Triad. In just the last week, Winston-Salem, Asheboro and Graham have been the center of attention as to the future of the statues there.
Many people want to see them preserved, while others want to see symbols of the Confederacy come down for good.
Members of the Alamance County community are speaking out for the first time since protesters on both sides of the issues gathered outside the Alamance County Courthouse Saturday night.
There on Main Street, a Confederate soldier has stood for more than 100 years. But many of the people who walk by it see two different things
“Why these monuments were erected has nothing to do with slavery, oppression, or race,” said Gary Williamson at Monday night’s Alamance County Commission meeting. He’s the founder of Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, a group that describes itself on Facebook as “willing and wanting to preserve our Southern rights and to grow and show our support for our state and county.”
“But what that history is of prejudice and racism and slavery,” said Alamance NAACP President Barrett Brown in response.
The scene grew tense in Graham Saturday night. While there was a standoff between people on both sides of the issue, things did remain peaceful.
Now, Alamance NAACP wants to build on that momentum and work to bring Graham’s statue, and others like it, down.
“They are basically objects of intimidation and that’s an inappropriate place at the county seat for a confederate monument,” Brown said.
Brown says the process needs to happen in a peaceful, lawful way, and those who support the statue agree with that measure.
“Doing things unlawfully and by force is never the right answer,” Alamance County Commissioner Amy Scott Galey said Monday night.
The commissioners spoke in favor of the Graham monument, including Tim Sutton, who said he’s a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Alamance County.
“I’m not ashamed. My great-grandfather did what he did,” Sutton said.
Sutton said his family also owned slaves.
“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.”
“The men and women that hold these Confederate monuments dear to our hearts, cherish them for no reason other than pride and honor of the sons and fathers that answered the call to defend their homes, their families and their rights,” Williamson added.
Brown says they’re missing the point about what these statues represent to people who were oppressed under the Confederacy.
“One of the things about oppression is, if it’s done correctly, you won’t even realize you’re being oppressed,” he said. “So to just make it a general part of this landscape is a symbolic problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. What it symbolizes is a group of people in rebellion.”
Commissioners also said if the statue ever got taken down, they’d vote to put it right back up.
The problem, local governments no longer have the power to change historical monuments. The state legislature passed a law in 2015 that prevents removing, relocating or altering monuments on public property without permission from the North Carolina Historical Commission.
Both said think the decision to keep them, remove them and where to put them shouldn’t rest with the state.
“I think it should be a local decision that every community needs to decide for themselves,” Commissioner Bob Byrd said.
“I do understand monuments and memorials in museums, on private property, in cemeteries,” Brown added.
Brown hopes the community can also decide to have a bigger conversation about history and racism to prove those who see these statues differently still share some common ground.
“Sometimes these monuments are a distraction, but they don’t have to be,” Brown said. “They can be a point of conversation. They need to go, but you can’t be so consumed with the symbols.”