by Henry Blair
Pittsboro, NC – I do not live in Chatham County. I was raised there and left in 1968 after I got a graduate degree at UNC. My parents lived in Chatham County as well as my brother, Johnny Blair, and my stepfather, Jim Johnson, until their deaths. I have been told that my family’s ancestors have lived in Chatham County since the late 1700s. With my brother’s passing on November 10, 2017, the last Blair of this lineage of 200+ years ended.
If my ancestors owned any slaves, I am not aware of it. My grandfather, George Walker Blair, built the Blair Hotel on the Courthouse Circle in 1917. He was sheriff from 1920 to 1932. He was a lifelong Democrat. Sheriff Blair was physically ill for two days when he learned my uncle voted, by absentee ballot, for Ike in 1952.
My father, Henry Blair Sr., was a merchant and farmer. He lived in Pittsboro all his life and was generous in supporting civic projects. He was proud of Pittsboro and entertained people from all over the world at his NC State approved cattle farm just south of the Pittsboro city limits. He was featured in agriculture publications for his innovative forage techniques. Though he never went to college he supported the Tarheels as a fan and financially. He saw my mother, a new schoolteacher, walking down Hillsboro Street and said immediately that he was going to marry her. He did.
At my brother Johnny’s funeral at the Pittsboro Methodist Church, the new minister started reading a list of the things he had done for the town and the church. She stopped mid-list. She realized Johnny may not want it known all that he had done. Johnny contributed generously to the library, center for aging, Methodist Church, and many other civic activities. He and my stepfather, Jim Johnson, worked together to put the clocks in the top of the courthouse at no cost to the county. The original plans for the courthouse had made provisions for the clocks. The investment in this project, including funding the maintenance of the clocks for perpetuity, was well over $300,000.
Finally, I was often approached by my family and others to provide for civic and Methodist Church projects. I did gladly. Chatham County and Pittsboro are my home, maybe not physically, but certainly in spirit. As a little boy, I lived in the Burns House. It was a home built in the late 1700s that was about 150 – 200 feet east of the courthouse. I remember the construction of the courthouse circle. For about two years, at a time when I was too young to read, the people who selected the jurors at the courthouse would use me to draw the names for the jury pool. I was paid 25 cents for my ‘work.’
As I discussed the statue with a friend in the legal profession, he felt that the statue ought to go. I asked ‘Why?’ He believed that this statue was a reminder of the Jim Crow era and that Afro-Americans might reasonably believe that the justice meted out here may be tainted. That sounded reasonable until I found that there were no longer any judicial activities being held in the “historic courthouse.” That indicates to me the statue is in the perfect location — a museum courtyard. The statue has not changed, but the use of the building behind it has.
The Historic Courthouse no longer is used for judicial purposes. It is a museum and has recently been a wedding venue. I also understand that county commission meetings are held there. A museum is probably the perfect location to have more commemorative monuments.
No one seems to be considering the fact that the statue was placed there in recognition of those who gave their lives protecting their families and homes. Many were conscripted into service. It has been a long time since I looked, but there are no negative remarks on the statue that I ever saw.
The idea that the statue was placed on loan or under some ill-defined 100+ year lease seems to be a fictitious understanding of convenience. There are laws in place that allow for the removal of statues from public property. If this legal path is followed, there could be no argument. Enforcing the laws as they are written is a governmental responsibility. The Chatham County Commissioners seem to be a clique more like a homeowner’s association than a legal governing body.
I am just as disturbed by the Confederate flag placed at Horton Middle School. This cannot be the true feelings of the people from Pittsboro. Tearing apart a bible is an action its equal by the opposite side.
If the 5′ clocks are ever in the future declared surplus because of cell phones, or their 107 years in the future replacement, please do not put them in my descendant’s yards. THEY ARE A GIFT!!!