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Durham Protesters Pull Down Confederate Statue

Barry Yeoman
Durham police view statue of a Confederate soldier protesters in Durham Monday pulled down.

A crowd of people gathered in downtown Durham late Monday to witness the toppling of a long-time Confederate monument. On Twitter, Governor Roy Cooper called the Charlottesville violence unacceptable, but also said quote – “there is a better way to remove these monuments.” Protestors on the scene in Durham said destroying the monument was their answer to the deadly attack by a white supremacist.

The crowd outside the old Durham County courthouse on East Main Street started off small but began to grow, peaking when the bronze statue of an armed, uniformed soldier wearing a hat fell to the ground. And it was all caught on video and quickly spread to social media.

Hours after the event, people were still gathering, like Lezlie Sumpter, who was driving home from work when her son called.Leoneda Inge reports on a protest that brought down a Confederate statue outside the old Durham County Courthouse.

“I thought the house was on fire! Mom the statue is down, they are protesting downtown, let’s go, let’s go!" said Sumpter. "When I got home my husband said no we’re not going down there based on what happened in Charlottesville.”

In Charlottesville, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a man rammed his car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally. But Sumpter made her way to downtown Durham anyway, and was shocked when she saw the bent up statue on the ground.

“Wait, wait, you all are kidding! This wasn’t just here? You all are kidding!” said Sumpter.

Jacqueline Wagstaff described what she saw on online.

“And you see the rope is still there, they attached the rope, they had a ladder, they went up it, they attached the rope and took it down.  This is one old gray, dead soldier," said Wagstaff.

Wagstaff was inside the old county courthouse at a commission meeting when she heard about what was going on. She’s glad to see part of the 15-foot Confederate memorial gone, but wonders why it took so long.

“With all this going on about these confederate monuments across the United States why are progressive county commissioners haven’t had this discussion about removing this a long time ago," said Wagstaff.

Rochelle Sparko says she wondered the same thing. She walked from her nearby home to see for herself that the statue had come down.

“A thing that exists in our town that’s bothered me since I moved here," said Sparko. "But it was always kind of, well that sucks that that’s there and you never really felt like there was a lot you could do about it.”

Two years ago, the state legislature passed a measure banning municipalities from removing statues without legislative approval. Then-governor Pat McCrory signed the measure into law.

Pierre Faulkner and about 30 others cheered as Durham County crews detached the fallen soldier from a large piece of granite and drove it away. One staff person said they think the piece that fell down could weigh as much as 1,000 pounds.

"It's about time that statue done came down," said Faulkner. "It represents a lie."

The tallest part of the monument that reads, “In memory of the boys who wore the gray,” still stands, where it was erected in 1924.

Copyright 2017 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She explores modern and historical constructs to tell stories of poverty and wealth, health and food culture, education and racial identity. Leoneda is also co-host of the podcast Tested, allowing for even more in-depth storytelling on those topics.