The City of Rocky Mount unceremoniously began the long process Monday of removing the Confederate monument from its place near Battle Park.
The city hired the Greenville Monument Co. to handle the removal of the monument, according to a statement from the city. The removal is expected to take about five days and is resulting in the closure of one northbound lane of Falls/Benvenue Road until the removal of the former landmark is completed.
By early Monday afternoon, the statue of the Confederate soldier located at the top of the monument had been removed and workers were removing the second section of the column. Observers of the dismantling of the monument had mixed reactions to the historic event.
“This is a good day,” said Linwood Gallop, an African-American man who has lived in the Rocky Mount area for about a year.
Gallop said he is glad to see the monument come down.
“I am very pleased,” he said. “It is a long, old, bad history and it needs to be corrected. The way I feel about it, these monuments were illegal when they went up.”
Buck Luper, a white lifelong resident of Rocky Mount had a different reaction.
“This is a sad day,” he said.
Luper said he feels the removal of the Confederate monument is both unnecessary and senseless.
“I just hate to see part of history removed,” Luper said. “It is not what is represents so much as the fact that wars are wars. People lose their lives, and this is just commemorative of that. It is not about racism, in my opinion.”
Luper was present at the scene Monday to say goodbye to “Uncle Billy.”
“I bring my grandkids by when they come here, and I always referred to the man on the top as ‘Uncle Billy.’ And when they came to visit, they would always say, ‘Let’s go see Uncle Billy,’” Luper said.
The monument is being removed because of a 6-1 vote by the Rocky Mount City Council during the June 8 meeting. Within three weeks and with no apparent bidding process, the city manager made the decision to hire a firm to remove the statue at a price tag of $281,250. This money will come from the city’s general funds, a spokesman for the city said.
Though no ceremony was held to acknowledge the dismantling of the monument, its installation was a different matter. The original dedication of the statue was held on May 14, 1917.
The book “Commemorative Landscapes of N.C.,” published by UNC-Chapel Hill, recounts the original unveiling in what was then called Riverside Park.
“A procession began at the Ricks Hotel led by mounted marshals, the 1st N.C. Regiment Band, five troops of Boy Scouts, the Junior Bethel Heroes Chapter, three troops of Girl Scouts, school children, and automobiles. ‘America’ and ‘Bonnie Blue Flag’ were sung by children. Governor Bickett delivered the address, and the monument was unveiled by R.H. Ricks and Richard Thorp. Following the service, a ‘genuine Nash County barbecue dinner’ was served.”
The location of the monument is tied to an historical event at the adjacent Rocky Mount Mills. Rocky Mount Mills began in 1818, according to the book, and slave labor powered the mills until 1852. The author of “The South in the Building of a Nation,” states that the Rocky Mount Mills was a general supply station for warps used by women of the South to weave cloths on old hand looms during and just prior to the Civil War.
On July 20, 1863, Rocky Mount Mills was targeted by Union Gen. Edward E. Potter with six companies dispatched to destroy it, “Commemorative Landscapes of N.C.” states.
The inscription on the monument reads: “To the Confederate soldiers of Nash County who in 1861 in obedience to the summons of their state freely offered their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on behalf of the cause of Constitutional liberty and self-government and through four years of war so bore themselves in victory and defeat as to win the plaudits of the world and set an example of exalted and unseen patriotism which will ever be an unfailing inspiration to all future generations of American citizens.”
The monument states that is was erected by “a surviving comrade.” That comrade was Col. R.H. Ricks, a Rocky Mount native, who donated funds for its purchase and installation. The original cost of the monument was $15,000.
In 1976, during a restoration effort, the monument was rededicated to veterans of all wars from Nash and Edgecombe counties, according to historical reports.
After the removal of the monument is complete, the monument will be stored in an unidentified location on city property until a new owner claims and relocates it, a press release from the city stated.