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'The bigger they are, the harder they fall'

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The Confederate monument on Falls Road.

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By LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A historical marker to many and a symbol of hate to others, the Confederate monument at Battle Park has stood for a century, but its days may now be numbered.

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” Rocky Mount Councilman Andre Knight said of the large granite monument to the Confederacy on Falls Road at Battle Park. The monument was erected in 1917 on private land, which was gifted to the city in the 1970s.

Violence in Virginia has brought a long seething local situation to a boiling froth with the tension playing out at local, state and national levels.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Nash County native, said his stomach sank when he learned a peaceful counter-protester had been killed and many others injured during weekend violence in Charlottesville, Va. The town had been flooded with white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right movement angry over the removal of a Confederate monument.

Cooper said Charlottesville could have been Raleigh or Rocky Mount or any other city in North Carolina that has similar monuments.

Cooper said those monuments should be taken down.

N.C. Sen. Rick Horner, R-Wilson, said Cooper is just pandering.

“It's ridiculous for the governor to even be talking about this right now,” Horner said. “This is not the time to be reactionary. Gov. Cooper is a smart fellow, but right now I'm embarrassed for him. I don't like pandering.”

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-1st District, said Americans must confront the scourge of racism.

“I don’t condone the destruction of government property, but I understand the hurt and pain the continued existence of Confederate monuments cause to many in our communities, whether it is on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, state capitals or any other locations,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield's Congressional district includes Rocky Mount and Durham, where protesters pulled down a Confederate statue Monday night.

“The events in Durham are an example of the pain that people of good will are experiencing when terror is heaped upon them or their fellow citizens,” Butterfield said. “The Durham protesters were expressing their outrage at the Charlottesville terror attacks, continued racial disparities in our communities and the president’s reluctance to take a firm stand against these pervasive, hateful, and divisive ideologies.”

Nash County resident Marc Chappelle said he was ticked off when he read his copy of the Telegram on Tuesday morning.

“I tried to let it go then got to thinking about it again,” Chappelle said. He called the newspaper to express his anger at the thought of anyone removing the local Confederate monument.

Chappelle said North Carolinians who died in the Civil War didn't die fighting for slavery. He said they were fighting to maintain states' rights.

“If they try to take the monument down it will cause a problem more than Rocky Mount can handle,” Chappelle said. “It cannot happen, should not happen and will not happen.”

Chappelle said the monument is about preserving history and heritage.

“There's a whole lot of people — some of them very wealthy — looking to honor lost family members,” Chappelle said.

Chappelle said he's not racist and has no love or affiliation with any white supremacy group.

“They're clowns with hoods on their heads,” Chappelle said. “But it's a long dip off the bank to try to tie that monument to slavery. Someone needs to read a history book.”

Rocky Mount resident Nehemiah Smith said the monument must come down.

“Why are we maintaining a monument to traitors?” Smith asked. “I'm an American. Why are we honoring people who fought against the American government?”

Cooper said some people continue to cling to the belief that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.

“But history is not on their side,” Cooper said. “We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery. These monuments should come down.”

Cooper said Civil War monuments belong in textbooks and museums, not in a place of prominence and governance.

“And our history must tell the full story, including the subjugation of humans created in God’s image to provide the back-breaking labor that drove the South’s agrarian economy,” Cooper said.

Cooper called on the N.C. General Assembly to repeal a 2015 law preventing the removal of monuments, saying cities and counties should make the decision in their jurisdictions.

Cooper has asked the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to determine the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property as well as alternatives for their placement at museums or historical sites where they can be studied in context.

The governor also called on legislators to defeat a bill granting immunity from liability to motorists who strike protesters.

“That bill passed the state House and remains alive in the Senate,” Cooper said. “The Senate should kill it. Full stop. Those who attack protesters, weaponizing their vehicles like terrorists, should find no safe haven in our state.”

N.C. Sen. Angelia Bryant, D-Nash, said Confederate monuments should be removed but doesn't want anyone acting rash.

“I don't support people forcibly removing statues,” Bryant said. “We should rally around efforts to build African-American monuments. Our area is rich in black history.”

Bryant said given the current Republican majority in the legislature she doubts any change to the monument law will happen anytime soon.

Knight said the issue should be discussed by the City Council at its next Committee of the Whole meeting.

“We need a true dialogue about race, economics, equity and parity,” Knight said. “We can take down all the monuments in the world but nothing will change until we change the hearts and minds of people.”

Knight said the city's new manager used to work in Charlottesville and should have unique insight for the council on how to move forward.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney declined Tuesday to talk about Charlottesville.

Butterfield said he was disappointed President Donald Trump waited two days before specifically condemning the violence in Charlottesville.

“His failure to not immediately and powerfully condemn these terror groups by name was a clear message that he is supportive of or indifferent to their cause based on ideology or politics, either of which is unacceptable for an American president,” Butterfield said. “The Congress of the United States must not neglect its duty to condemn the KKK, neo-Nazis and other extremist groups who terrorize our communities. President Trump must stop pandering to these groups and instead use the full power of the Department of Justice to prosecute those who inflict violence upon communities because of their race or beliefs. And the president must continue to condemn all acts of racism, bigotry and domestic terror.”

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