Site of former Confederate monument

Traffic passes the former site of Rocky Mount’s Confederate monument, Friday. The city has reached an agreement with two Civil War heritage organizations to have them take ownership of the monument, which has already been removed.

The City Council on Monday evening quickly approved transferring possession of the since-taken-down Confederate monument to the local Sons of Confederate Veterans and the local United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Councilman Andre Knight said “so moved” in making a motion just before Mayor Sandy Roberson completed reading aloud the action recommended by City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney.

Councilman Richard Joyner seconded Knight’s motion and the vote was unanimous.

A memorandum from Small-Toney to Roberson and the council said the Robert Henry Ricks Camp 75 of the state Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Bethel Heroes 636 state division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked the city to release the monument to their care and custody so they may preserve the monument at a location in Nash County.

The memorandum said the agreement with the city would call for transferring all rights and the title and interest to the SCV Camp 75 and the UDC Bethel Heroes on the condition they transport the monument to and re-erect the monument at the new site.

The memorandum also said the SCV Camp 75 and the UDC Bethel Heroes subsequently would maintain, preserve and protect the monument at their own cost.

Small-Toney in the memorandum recommended the council vote for the terms.

The agenda includes a five-page document outlining those terms in more detail.

The document makes clear no monetary or other consideration is changing hands between the city and the SCV Camp 75 and UDC Bethel Heroes.

The document said both the SCV Camp 75 and the UDC Bethel Heroes may preserve and protect the monument at a location in the county at least 15 miles from the Rocky Mount city limits.

The document also makes clear the stored parts of the monument must be removed from city property and delivered to the new site within 120 days of the effective date of the agreement or else the agreement will be voided.

The SCV is based in Columbia, Tenn., and is the oldest hereditary organization for male descendants of Confederate soldiers.

The UDC is based in Richmond, Va., and is a hereditary heritage group of Southern women.

The monument in Rocky Mount was on the south side of the U.S. 64 interchange with Benvenue Road. It was installed in 1917 by Confederate veteran Robert Henry Ricks of Nash County in memory of his comrades on land owned by the then-Rocky Mount Mills.

Ricks also was an agribusinessman, banker, hotelier, Nash County commissioner, state House member, state senator and a state Board of Education member. He died in 1920 at age 81.

The Confederate monument came with an inscription saying the monument was committed to the care of the UDC Bethel Heroes.

In 1976, the monument site was annexed by the city. T.E. Ricks, representing the Robert Henry Ricks estate, asked the city to take over the maintenance of the area around the monument.

The then-council in 1976 agreed to maintain the monument site, which meant the city would mow the surrounding grass and keep the surrounding area clean, subject to the monument site being given to the city. This was with the understanding the city would not be responsible for any damage to the monument.

The monument became a focus of attention in the aftermath of the May 25 death of African-American George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death prompted riots in cities nationwide and the removal of Confederate monuments in the South by either government officials or protesters.

On May 31, the monument in Rocky Mount was the scene of a peaceful protest to call attention to Floyd’s death.

The council voted 6-1 during a council budget work session on June 2 to move the monument and formalized the action of that vote with a 6-1 vote at the June 8 council meeting.

Councilman W.B. Bullock cast the lone dissenting votes.

The text supporting the June 8 vote called for putting the monument in a safe place, pending further action by the council.

The council without dissent approved a resolution against racial injustice and declaring Black lives matter. However, there were complaints locally via social media after a news release from a city spokesman on June 25 saying the cost to take the monument down would exceed $281,000.

Documents as part of Monday’s council agenda said the monument had been a target of vandalism in the past. That included the monument’s two rear statues having been pulled from their pedestals and found in pieces on the ground, as well as damage to the head of the front left statue, which had been removed from the monument and never was located.

The documents as part of Monday’s council agenda referred to a downtown business having been vandalized and a bomb threat having been made to the state Department of Revenue service center along Country Club Road in the northwestern part of the city.

The documents did not name the business, but the Telegram has quoted police as saying Wholesale Paint Center along North Church Street on June 1 reported having sustained damage to its windows.

The bomb threat to the state service center occurred on June 2.

The documents also noted that unnamed members of the council became aware of credible threats to destroy the monument as a response to acts of racial injustice.