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Once Set In Stone, Fate Of Gaston Confederate Monument Again Up In The Air

Dashiell Coleman
A Confederate soldier stands atop a 30-foot pedestal outside the Gaston County Courthouse, seen here on Thursday, July 2.

Plans to move a Confederate monument away from the Gaston County Courthouse might come to a halt this week after the group that was going to take the statue "refused to sign the deed" for it.

Gaston County commissioners had voted 6-1 on Aug. 3 to give the monument the Sons of Confederate Veterans so the group could find a new home for the controversial statue, which depicts a Confederate soldier atop a roughly 30-foot-tall stone pedestal. The county would have paid up to $200,000 for the removal process, but the group failed to meet a Friday afternoon deadline to take ownership of the monument.

"They were worried about potential lawsuits and basically backed out of the deal with us worried about that," said Commissioner Ronnie Worley.

Now, two commissioners – including Chad Brown, the lone member to vote against giving the monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans – have added a resolution to the board's Tuesday night meeting that would rescind the county's Aug. 3 move and leave the monument where it stands.

The resolution says the group's refusal to sign the deed rendered the previously approved plan "moot." Brown said he sponsored the new resolution because "it has to be done" since the deal fell through. 

"This is something we had to do formality-wise," Brown said. 

Now commissioners have to decide what to do next with the statue -- if anything. 

"That just puts us right back where we were," Worley said. "There's been no change, and I think it's unacceptable for several reasons."

Among those, Worley said, is the potential that conflict over the statue could wind up with people getting hurt.

Worley said he would likely sponsor an amendment to Tuesday's resolution calling for county staff to move the monument anyway – for safety reasons. Some Confederate monuments have been torn down by protesters in recent months.  

There are now gates around the monument and one across the street that pays homage to Martin Luther King Jr. But Brown says he doesn't see protests as a threat. 

"I don't see how that would be a safety issue," he said. "I don't think anybody would be in danger because of people peacefully protesting on both sides." 

The Aug. 3 vote had given the Sons of Confederate Veterans six months to find a new home for the monument and required that it remain in the county and be publicly displayed.

Worley said he would ask that county staff be given the same amount of time to find a new place for the monument, but he noted that he wasn't sure if he'd have enough support from other commissioners.

There's apparently another possibility: Someone other than the Sons of Confederate Veterans could volunteer to take the statue.

"I would hope someone steps forward, some organization, and says, 'Let us help,'" Worley said. "If not, I think we as a county have the ability to move it. Let's find a suitable location that's not in front of the courthouse."

At least one group that opposes the monument being at the courthouse, Gaston County Freedom Fighters, is expressing interest, reports The Gaston Gazette

Confederate monuments have come down across the South in recent months, including several in North Carolina, in part because of America's ongoing reckoning with systemic racism. Gaston's monument has drawn on and off protest for two decades, and its placement at the courthouse has been of particular concern for many who want to see it moved.

"It being erected there on the courthouse grounds is totally inappropriate. Individuals go there for justice," Chris Thomason, president of Gaston County's NAACP chapter, told WFAE in July. "I know they say it represents heritage and history, but in the Black community, that represents hate and hostility, a time when things were not equal."

Brown says he's still in favor of keeping the statue on courthouse grounds as a monument to veterans. 

"In that small courtyard, we can teach a lot about history," he said. "I think if you remove it, history gets washed away and we forget about what's happened in the past." 

But plenty of people see it as a symbol of oppression and white supremacy, and it was originally installed during the Jim Crow era, decades after the Civil War ended. 

The monument was put up in 1912 in front of the old county courthouse in downtown Gastonia. When the courthouse moved a few blocks away to a new location – off what is now called Martin Luther King Jr. Way – the towering Confederate monument came with it.

As calls for the Gaston monument's removal began again this summer, commissioners appointed a 12-person "Council of Understanding" to recommend a fate for the monument. The council, which had no authority, voted 7-5 to remove the monument, and after a contentious meeting Aug. 3, commissioners ultimately opted for the plan that now seems to be falling through.