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After 108 Years, Confederate Soldier Will No Longer Stand Outside Gaston Courthouse

Ann Doss Helms
A rainy evening drew few protests outside the Gaston County courthouse but dozens of speakers inside.

Gaston County commissioners voted 6-1 Monday night to move a Confederate monument that has stood in front of the courthouse since 1912.

The vote to give the monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans ended a debate that has simmered in Gaston County for more than 20 years. The Confederate soldier perched atop a 30-foot pillar may remain in front of the courthouse for up to six months while the group finds land for it.  The county will pay up to $200,000 to move it.

Strong Feelings Aired

Before voting, commissioners spent more than two hours hearing from dozens of residents on both sides of the issue. Speakers quoted scripture, debated history and talked about their own heritage – including some white people who said their own Confederate ancestors were on the wrong side of history.

D’Amber Clark, who is Black, said the debate is more than just politics for her.

“It’s difficult when you watch inanimate objects being protected and defended with more intensity than you’ve seen your brothers’ and sisters’ lives,” she said. “It’s difficult when you watch people with your skin color constantly being treated like a threat, regardless of if that threat is present or not.”

Delores Green, who’s white, said the complaints about the monument and the Confederacy make no sense to her.

“I don’t understand this ‘racist’ thing, because I’ve never thought we had a problem with race,” she said. “Show me in Gaston County: Where is the racism? I haven’t seen it.”

Lamar McCorkle, who’s Black, said the monument is creating racial divides where none existed before. “So what I am suggesting is y’all get it the hell up out of here,” he said.

Shane Fogarty, who said he’s lived in Gaston County all of his 18 years, ticked off a list of reasons he thought all commissioners should vote to move the monument. He concluded by saying if they failed to act, “one day my generation will relocate it, and your generation will go down in history books as the one that upheld a racist system.”

 Votes Come In

Commissioner Allen Fraley said Monday's speakers changed his mind.

"I came here tonight, and I’d even told some of my commissioner friends, that I was going to vote to leave it be," he said. "But after listening to everyone talk, and the clergy that got up there arm in arm in this county, and hearing the words that were spoke by everyone, my heart was changed."

Commissioner Ronnie Worley speaks in favor of moving the monument.

Commissioner Ronnie Worley was the first commissioner to say, weeks ago, the monument should be moved. He said Monday that "I think we will still honor history, and we can do something for the good and move our county forward for the good of our citizens."  

Commissioners’ Chair Tracy Philbeck agreed that some people who called for moving the monument had a point. He introduced the plan to remove the monument and let the Sons of Confederate Veterans relocate it, but said that during the weeks of debate he was alienated by "an extreme element of individuals that would like to do and get rid of anything American" and "young folks who are disrespectful, rude, arrogant, prideful."

Philbeck said he would never have agreed to destroy the monument, but "moving a monument from one location to another loction" isn't the same as erasing history.

Commissioner Jack Brown introduces an unsuccessful motion to keep the monument at the courthouse.

Commissioner Jack Brown introduced an unsuccessful motion to keep the monument in place. He opened the discussion by saying he’s not a racist, just someone respecting his constituents.

"I’ve had an awful lot of people in the community call me, write me, come by my house, that want to keep that monument there," he said.

After his motion failed, Jack Brown voted for the plan to give the monument to Sons of Confederate Veterans. The only “no” vote came from Chad Brown, who said only that the memorial to war dead should remain where it is.