Storm over monument won't just blow past


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Forecasters are now saying the worst of Hurricane Irma will pass well to the west when the monster storm, after wreaking major damage on communities south and west of us, finally reaches North Carolina as early as tomorrow. While the Albemarle will be spared the kind of damage we’ve seen from past storms, other communities that are usually spared that destruction — wide-scale flooding, mass power outages, destroyed homes and property — won’t be. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Meanwhile, there’s another storm blowing here at home we have to deal with. Or not deal with, as a majority of Pasquotank County commissioners apparently hope.

Last week, commissioners voted to reject a motion by the board’s chairman, Cecil Perry, to amend their agenda to discuss a request by the Pasquotank NAACP to move the Confederate monument from the county courthouse.

The NAACP considers the monument to be what it is — a memorial to the defense of slavery, the worst sin in our nation’s history — and would like it removed from its place of prominence on the courthouse green. The NAACP, as have others, has recommended moving the monument to somewhere more appropriate for the display of historical artifacts. The Museum of the Albemarle property has been suggested as a possible site.

Perry, only the second African American elected to the Pasquotank commissioners since Reconstruction and one of only two blacks now serving on the seven-member commission board, agrees with the NAACP that the monument needs to be moved.

The monument, ostensibly erected to honor local soldiers who died fighting for the Confederacy, was placed at the courthouse in 1911, a time when Perry’s ancestors and the ancestors of other African Americans in Pasquotank County had no say about who or what should be honored on public property. Black citizens at that time had no say in the monument’s erection — although the taxes they paid almost surely helped pay for and maintain it — because they weren’t allowed to vote. And they weren’t allowed to vote because of the pernicious Jim Crow laws white legislators across the former slave states of the Confederacy, including North Carolina, passed after losing the Civil War. Those laws, which controlled everything from black voting and public education to where blacks could sleep, eat and use the bathroom, were passed as a means of enforcing white supremacy — the same white supremacy that the Confederacy fought to preserve.

It’s only been since Perry was a younger man that African Americans, thanks to federal laws, have been able to vote in North Carolina, and much later in his life, thanks to a threatened NAACP lawsuit, that they’ve been able to win election to seats of power in local government. So the anger Perry and other African Americans feel over the placement of a Confederate monument at the courthouse — a monument to those who fought to keep his ancestors, and thus him, enslaved — has been simmering a long time. And their desire for at least a public discussion about whether the monument should be there has been long-standing. That desire has been sort of like the storm that brews in the Atlantic for days, gaining strength as it heads west, finally bursting into public consciousness as it makes landfall.

The anger over Confederate monuments first surfaced two years ago when a young white teenager, who worshiped the racist imagery of the Confederacy, murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, for no reason other than that were black. Dylann Roof’s love for the symbols of the Confederacy allowed people who had long held their tongue about Confederate monuments and flags to finally speak out against them. Both the Pasquotank NAACP and Perry in fact spoke out against the Pasquotank monument at the time, urging commissioners to remove it.

Commissioners didn’t heed their request, but Perry, believing the latest violence caused by Confederate monument worshipers in Charlottesville, Virginia, might have changed things, decided to broach the subject again. This time he had help. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper recently called for the removal of Confederate monuments from public property. Also, Elizabeth City City Council approved, unanimously, resolutions calling for both the Pasquotank monument’s relocation and support for Cooper’s efforts.

On his own board, however, Perry got support from only Commissioners Bettie Parker, the board’s only other African American, and Bill Sterritt, a monument supporter who believes there should at least be a public discussion of its placement. Voting against holding even a discussion about the monument were Commissioners Joe Winslow, Jeff Dixon, Lloyd Griffin and Frankie Meads. None explained their votes at last week’s commissioners meeting, but in interviews with Daily Advance Staff Writer Jon Hawley both Dixon and Griffin said they saw no reason for moving it. Dixon tossed out a few specious concerns about the monument’s questionable ownership and the cost to move it, but said he could support moving it to the museum property. One wonders, if there are questions about the monument’s ownership, why is it still on county property. As for the cost of moving it, there is probably more than one local church where, if you announced that the funds raised would be used to move the Confederate monument, parishioners would be more than willing to flood the collection plate that day. 

Parker, who is seeking to become city mayor in next month’s election, probably expressed best the frustration with commissioners that many county residents are feeling following their outright rejection of holding a public discussion about the monument. “What was that going to hurt?” she asked. Indeed, since when is talking about any subject a bad thing?

Parker also indicated that the storm over the monument isn’t just going to brush our coast and spin off into the ocean. “I do not believe (this issue) is going to go away,” she told Hawley.

We believe that’s a solid forecast. Now, if our elected leadership would just gather the political courage to see the same storm ahead, and do what’s best for all Pasquotank residents and at least hold public discussions about moving the monument.