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Opposing views on Columbia’s Confederate monument

COLUMBIA — Opposing voices in Columbia have placed a spotlight on the Confederate monument outside the Tyrrell County Courthouse. Two petitions being circulated online express different points of view — one calling for the monument’s relocation and the other in favor of keeping it where it is.

A petition by Columbia native Jonathan Mackey argues that the monument should be removed from public property. That petition has collected more than 2,000 signatures.

“We don’t need monuments in order to remember what happened in the Civil War, we live every day with the repercussions of that war and the racist systems that were born out of it,” the petition reads. “It’s time to accept the darkness in our past, and move forward instead of standing in its shadow by continuing to protect these racist monuments.”

The opposing petition, entitled “Save the Confederate Statue in Columbia NC” has garnered 415 signatures so far. Organized by Columbia resident Linda Austin, the petition argues that the monument is an important piece of the town’s history.

“The Tyrrell County Confederate Monument memorializes Civil War soldiers as well as former slaves,” that petition reads. “The monument stands next to the Tyrrell County Courthouse. General James Johnston Pettigrew, a Tyrrell county native who acted as a Confederate general, is depicted atop the monument facing north.”

Both petitions can be accessed at www.change.org.

A COMPLICATED HISTORY

This isn’t the first time the monument has been a source of contention in the community. In February 2019, Joyce Sykes Fitch, a resident of the Alligator community, approached the Tyrrell County Board of Commissioners to request the statue be relocated from public property outside the courthouse to a graveyard.

The following month, Tyrrell County Manager David Clegg told Fitch the statue could not be removed, per North Carolina state law. Fitch spoke before county commissioners one final time last June, asking if commissioners had considered any further options for moving the monument.

“This board has never expressed an opinion on whether we wanted the monument moved,” replied Tyrrell Board of Commissioners Chairman Tommy Everett. “You are the only one who has said anything about it. You deserve an honest and fair answer; however, some of the things you addressed are specifically prohibited.”

Per a state law passed in 2015, monuments may not be removed, relocated or altered without approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.

In 2017, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper tested that law, asking that three confederate monuments on the grounds of the North Carolina Capitol be moved to the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site in Four Oaks.

The North Carolina Historical Commission decided in that case that the removal of those monuments would be prohibited, but that additional context should be added to explain the circumstances of those monuments’ erection. The committee also recommended the construction of a new monument to commemorate the contributions of African-Americans to North Carolina’s history.

The North Carolina Historical Commission is still discussing the topic at the state level.

Further details on the Confederate Soldiers Monument in Columbia can be found here, including information on the monument’s construction and the words inscribed on the monument.