At an Alamance County Commissioners meeting earlier this month, County Attorney Clyde Albright clarified some details for the elected board regarding the Confederate Monument outside the Old Courthouse Square in downtown Graham. Much has been said this spring and summer about the Confederate Monument, and the desire of some in the greater Alamance County community to relocate the memorial, which was placed in downtown Graham back in the spring of 1914.
“I’ve been asked to give you a summary of the laws regarding the monument,” Albright said to the Commissioners. “We’ve done a study on the ownership of the monument, and determined that on May 16, 1914, it was presented to the county, and was accepted by the county, and it sits on county property. We’re not a home rule state. And county government is obliged to follow state law.”
Albright mentioned that in 2015, the state of North Carolina passed General Statute 100.2.1. Section B of that statute is entitled limitations on removal, stating, ’an object of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed, and may only be relocated, whether temporarily or permanently, under the circumstances set forth in the law. And those circumstances are if you temporarily remove it to preserve it, or if you’re going to build a new courthouse and remove it, you have to put it back within 90 days of the completion of the project.’
“If you want to move it to a location other than where it sits, it must be permanently relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the county,” Albright explained of the 2015 General Assembly statute. “It specifically says you cannot relocate it to a museum, a cemetery, or mausoleum, unless it was originally placed there. That is the summary of the law as it applies to the monument. It says the jurisdiction of where it is located - that is Alamance County. It has to be a place of prominence. I think that would require it to remain somewhere close to where it is now - in front of the courthouse.”
Albright added that if the Monument is owned by the state, before you move it, you have to get the authority and the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.
“Let me make a distinction between state-owned memorials and county-owned memorials. That puts limits as to what you can do under the existing law,” he said.
“So the only way we could move it is if the General Assembly said you can move it, basically? We have to have their stamp of approval to ever, as a board, remove it?” Asked County Commissioner Eddie Boswell.
“If the General Assembly should change the law, then the county could (relocate it), if it (the new state law) allows you to,” said Albright in response. “You would be bound by that state law. We’re not a home rule state. The cities, they have got no authority other than what the state licenses them to have. We’re a political subdivision of the state, subject to the authority of the General Assembly.”
“Even if we got a bill passed to allow for a vote, the vote could not be taken until 2022. And even if there was a vote to relocate it, it would have to be under the restrictions of that code,” said Commissioner Steve Carter.
“Unless they (the General Assembly) amend this law, in addition to passing that other law (to relocate monuments). And that would be for the General Assembly to consider, and for the Governor to sign,” said Albright. “It’s pretty limited as to what you can do. The title says protection of monuments, memorials, and works of art.”
Commissioner Chair Amy Scott Galey questioned about other local jurisdictions who have made decisions to relocate Confederate Monuments.
One neighboring jurisdiction, Caswell County, held a vote along racial lines earlier this summer, with the county’s five white Commissioners electing to keep their Confederate Monument in its current location, and the two African-American Commissioners voting to remove it. Thus far, Alamance County has chosen not to have a vote on the relocation subject, deferring to the state laws.
“I understand that Chatham County moved theirs. There was a monument in Winston-Salem that got moved. Can you distinguish between those situations, and Alamance County’s situation?” Galey asked the County Attorney.
“I don’t know who owned the monuments in Chatham County and Winston-Salem,” Albright explained. “That seems to be a key. The statute talks about the property being on public property. And I think that is the distinction there. In Winston-Salem, it was continuously owned by the Daughters of the Confederacy. Chatham County may have a license agreement, or some type of written agreement. We could not find that in our records, and we went all the way back to 1849, when this county was formed, and looked at everything we has access to.”
According to Albright, upon Alamance County’s acceptance of their Confederate Monument, the Chair of the County Commissioners at the time, the language used was “presentation of the monument by the President of the Daughters, and acceptance of the monument by George T. Williamson, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.”
“When you looked back through the minutes of the County Commissioners from that time period, were there any entries regarding payment for the monument?” Galey inquired.
Albright indicated that there was a state law authorizing the payment of $1,000 from Alamance County, and $1,000 from the City of Graham, authorized up to that amount, to pay for the base back in 1913.”
“(That was) a state law,” Albright explained. “That Courthouse standing there now was put up in 1922. The old Courthouse was smaller.”
In 1921, the General Assembly authorized the county to build the new Courthouse, and raise taxes to pay for it. At that time, the monument was temporarily relocated as the new Courthouse was constructed, and then placed back in the spot after its completion.”
“The question has been raised to me whether the Protection of Monuments law says that it applies to things owned by the state. Can you talk about that a little bit more?” Galey asked.
Albright indicated according to the law, remembrances on public property may not be relocated except under the circumstance that any relocated monument be placed at “a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the county.”
“So it seems to me the crux of the issue is people say that it (the Confederate Monument) represents something that is offensive, especially to people of color,” Galey said. “And it’s in a location that people of color - they have to experience and view it on the way to the Courthouse. And so it should be moved. Part of the problem with it is its prominence. The law requires us to move it to some place of equal prominence. So that problem is unextractable, really, because any place we would move it to that would be of equal prominence would also be offensive to people of color, and others.”
“There are people in our country that burn our flag,” Albright said in response to Chair Galey. “The American flag may cause adverse reactions emotionally by some. But it’s our flag. And it’s in a place of prominence, in front of our Courthouses. I understand what they’re saying. But they’re different views. This law was written to protect our history and our memorials. There’s more to it than the people who want them torn down would have you believe.”
“That’s how we learn is our history. If we forget history, we won’t know where we came from, and we won’t know where we’re going,” said Commissioner Boswell. “It’s pretty clear cut, isn’t it? My heart is clear.”
“To move them a foot today is to tear down history, it seems like,” added Commissioner Carter. “Even a monument to Ulysses S. Grant was torn down, which made no sense at all to me. Maybe I’m missing something there. (A) Christopher Columbus (statue was destroyed).”
“Frederick Douglas’s monument was destroyed,” added Albright.
“The Mayor of Washington D.C. has proposed tearing down the Washington Monument, and bulldozing the Jefferson Memorial. He posted that to a page and took it down within a day or two later, and replaced that link with something else,” added Carter. “You tear down history, you’re destined to repeat your history if you tear it down and don’t learn from it. I don’t think anybody in here wants to repeat where we were in the 1700s and 1800s. We’re a different culture now than we were then. And if we’re a different culture now than we were then, we all need to come forward.”