Councilman objects to Hall of Fame inductee

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The Confederate monument on Falls Road.

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Staff Writer

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A city councilman is taking issue with a Confederate veteran scheduled to be posthumously inducted into the Twin County Hall of Fame.

Councilman Andre Knight is citing Robert Ricks’ having bankrolled the creation of the local Confederate monument, which was dedicated in 1917 and has a likeness of a rebel soldier perched on top. Ricks and nine others will be enshrined on Nov. 7 as among the area’s highest-achieving residents.

Images of current Hall of Fame inductees are on display in part of the Rocky Mount Event Center, with each image including biographical information about the respective inductee.

Near the end of an hour-long regular council meeting on Monday, Knight said he had heard earlier in the day of plans to induct Ricks into the Hall of Fame.

“It doesn’t rest with my spirit with what we are trying to do here in Rocky Mount and in this country,” said Knight, who first was elected to the council in 2003 and also is the leader of the local NAACP.

The Confederate monument is located along Benvenue Road, adjacent to Battle Park and on the north side of the Tar River. The monument was dedicated to honor Nash County’s Confederate Civil War dead.

Ricks lived from 1839-1920. He was an agribusinessman, a banker, a hotelier, a Nash County commissioner, a state House member, a state senator and a state Board of Education member.

Additionally, Ricks was one of the first trustees of what today is N.C. State University, and a building on the N.C. State campus is named in his honor.

The booster organization Twin County Community Pride, incorporated in 2002, held a fundraising banquet in 2003 and inducted the first Twin County Hall of Fame class in 2004.

During Monday’s council meeting, Knight wanted to know whether the municipal government has any agreement with Twin County Community Pride or any organization enabling the city to tell them any display offensive to any ethnic group should not be shown in any city building.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said she did not know the answer but that she would be happy to check. Small-Toney said the municipal government does provide financial support for the Hall of Fame.

Knight said while he realizes Twin County Community Pride is private, when someone does something offensive or shameful to a group of people, he believes the municipal government should have some authority to say what goes into — or does not go into — a city building.

Councilwoman Chris Miller, who is the charter president of Twin County Community Pride, said during Monday’s council meeting Ricks and the other nine future inductees were chosen by a Hall of Fame selection committee. Miller noted she is not one of the voters.

Miller made clear the purpose of honoring Ricks was in connection to the Ricks Hotel and many other developments in Rocky Mount. The Ricks Hotel was a large lodging establishment downtown from 1909 to 1963.

Miller said the one who nominated Ricks for the Hall of Fame was cautioned and told no remarks about the Confederate monument would be allowed as part of the display of Ricks at the event center.

“There’s no litmus test that has been provided to Twin County Community Pride for whose portrait can hang in there,” she said. “We try to be sensitive to everything we know about an inductee before they are voted on — and we did realize that this could bring some distress in the community. It was not done to distress the community.”

She said Twin County Community Pride does not have complete knowledge of everything about any inductee or of any citizen seated in the council chamber.

“We do our best to honor people from what they have contributed to the city,” she said.

Miller went on to say she believed Ricks supposedly provided some money for the purchase of the Confederate monument.

Miller said her understanding is it was not done right after the Civil War, “which might have made it more palatable,” but that it was not done until maybe the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, “if I’m right on that.”

Miller decided not to go any further with her remarks and chuckles and laughter ensued in the council chamber.

Mayor David Combs, with a slight smile and in a polite tone, said he believed enough explanation had been given about the matter.

Knight recommended city Human Relations Director Archie Jones or someone from the local Human Relations Commission be part of a future vetting process when putting up images in connection with depictions of races of people.

“We know that Mr. Ricks was very involved with the erection of the Confederate monument, which we still have not settled here in this city,” Knight said.

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

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

During Monday’s council meeting, Knight said he believes it to be “very, very inappropriate” to induct someone into the Twin County Hall of Fame whose “hands are dirty” after the erection of the Confederate monument.

Miller said she would certainly report that to Twin County Community Pride.

Knight suggested maybe Twin County Community Pride replace Ricks with the late retired municipal sanitation worker Alexander Evans as a Hall of Fame designee.

“Amen, amen,” Councilman Reuben Blackwell said, clapping his hands.

Evans was arrested and suspended in 1978, which prompted a strike by co-workers. Evans later was cleared in Superior Court.

The council last year apologized to the family of Evans and to the sanitation workers for the actions taken by the municipal government in 1978. A historical marker was unveiled on Saturday along Atlantic Avenue in memory of the strike.