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NC Confederate statue that prompted protests can remain on public grounds, judge rules

Gaston County Confederate Soldiers Monument, Gastonia (UNC University Library/Released)

A Confederate statue that prompted peaceful protests in recent years can remain outside the Gaston County Courthouse, a judge ruled Friday.

The statue of a soldier holding a rifle is an “object of remembrance” as defined in N.C. Gen. Statute 100-2.1, Judge Robert Ervin ruled in Gaston County Superior Court.

As such, Ervin found, the law protects the statue from being removed.

The state statute is titled “Protection of monuments, memorials, and works of art.”

“The County’s failure to remove the object of remembrance to date does not constitute a violation of the Constitution of North Carolina as contended by the plaintiffs,” Ervin concluded.

The Gaston County NAACP chapter had sued the county to remove the statue.

In court documents, chapter president Chris Thomason described the Confederate monument as an “offensive relic” representing “bigoted beliefs.”

“It shows that racism is alive and well in Gaston County and tells Black residents that if we step too far out of line, life can quickly return to how it used to be before the Civil War and during the Jim Crow Era,” Thomason, a plaintiff in the case, said in court records.

The unnamed granite soldier stands 30 feet tall and looks out at a street renamed several years ago for Martin Luther King Jr.

The statue was dedicated in 1912, according to the UNC Library.

Guy Flemming, another plaintiff in the case, called the monument “a symbol of intimidation, oppression and injustice,” according to court documents.

“It idolizes criminals and traitors and shows that white supremacy still exists in Gaston County,” Flemming said.

He is a member of the Gaston County chapter of the National Association for Black Veterans.

The judge’s ruling will likely be appealed, Flemming told The Charlotte Observer on Saturday.

Flemming said he served 23 years in the U.S. Army, including in Japan, Germany, Belgium and Italy.

“I had to defend U.S. policy when I was stationed In Germany, listening to people say the U.S. is the only country that glorifies traitors,” referring to Confederate statues on public grounds, he said.

He said he gave the standard military reply of, “That’s a good question, I’ll get back to you,” but it inspired him to research such statues and their intent.

He hadn’t known the answers back then in the 1970s, having been “a Kansas country boy” far removed from the issue, he said.

He said he likewise needs to read over the judge’s ruling in depth.

Gaston County commissioners voted in 2020 to transfer the statue to the Gaston County chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Observer reported at the time. The chapter declined to take the statue.

The commissioners then voted not to proceed with the transfer, and the county-owned monument has since remained on the grounds.


© 2024 The Charlotte Observer

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