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Mayoral candidates weigh fate of Confederate monument

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The Confederate monument on Falls Road.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of many questions surfacing at a recent debate of three candidates for mayor of Rocky Mount was what the municipal government’s position should be about Confederate monuments.

The question included what the candidates would do, if elected the city’s chief executive, if someone was to attempt to bring a monument down by other than legal and legitimate means. The debate was held at Benvenue Country Club and Robert Lee Alston, Kevin Jones and Sandy Roberson participated.

Jones, who was first asked the question, said he believes law and order “is a huge piece of every single thing we should do.”

“And so in order to do anything in the city of Rocky Mount, it needs to be done in an orderly, legal way,” Jones said.

“Now, that is not to suggest that everybody is going to agree with it,” he said. “I mean, we’re human, right?”

At the same time, he said anybody who decides to take unlawful action against a statue, whether to deface it or to vandalize it in any way, needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

He said that is because at the end of the day “it is incumbent upon all of us to be law-abiding, law-respecting residents of this city.”

Alston, who was next asked the question, said if somebody tried to bring down a monument or a statue or something of that nature, he hopes he or she would be caught, face charges and be brought to justice.

Roberson said the Confederate monument in Rocky Mount sits on private property and as a result, the part of North Carolina law about monuments does not apply in this case.

Nash County online property tax records state that in 1976, the since-former Rocky Mount Mills gave the land the monument is on to the city, but the records made clear the site had to remain a monument to Confederate soldiers.

“Whether a monument exists or doesn’t exist doesn’t affect my day-to-day life — and it doesn’t affect or impact what we need to be doing as a community moving forward on very important issues such as safety, such as jobs, etc.,” he said.

Roberson said, in considering the monument in Rocky Mount, he would like to think the city could sit together and come up with a plan and an approach pleasing to most of the stakeholders in the community.

He said he believes the city ought to be able to move forward in a peaceful manner to be able to achieve that.

He also said there have been many commissions in the city, which he believes have been inconclusive at best in terms of results.

“I believe that law and order is an absolute must in any community,” he said. “That is the one thing that holds us together. We are a society of the rule of law — and I believe that’s very important.”

As for challenging the law, Roberson said, there is a process to do so and such a process can be done separately.

Since 2015, state law has prohibited removal of an object of remembrance on public property commemorating an event, a person or military service considered part of North Carolina’s history.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Nash County native who was elected in 2016, has called for the General Assembly to repeal the law.

“Some people cling to the belief that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. But history is not on their side,” Cooper has 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.”

Locally, the Confederate monument, which is located on the north side of the Tar River adjacent to Battle Park, was unveiled in 1917 to honor Nash County’s Confederate dead.

The monument cost $15,000. Adjusted for inflation today, the figure would be more than $300,000.

Past Telegram files show the monument was repaired in 1976 and rededicated to honor all Nash and Edgecombe county veterans of all wars. The monument again underwent repairs in 2012.

The questioning at the debate for the candidates for mayor of Rocky Mount came slightly more than two years after protesters brought down the Confederate soldier monument just outside the old Durham County Courthouse.

That monument was toppled a couple of days after violence in Charlottesville, Va., in connection with protests against a vote by a divided city council there to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing a woman and injuring many others.

The questioning at the debate for mayor of Rocky Mount also came just days before a year since protesters brought down the Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill. The monument, long known as “Silent Sam,” had been in place to honor student soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War.

The debate was held on Aug. 15 and sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club and television WHIG.

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