Pittsboro, NC – On Saturday, October 12 the Chatham County NAACP held a candidates forum in the Henry Dunlap building. During the forum a question came up about the candidates thoughts about the Confederate memorial statue located in front of the historic Chatham County courthouse. Below is a transcript of their responses.
Audience member: Lot of questions I’d like to ask, but I’m going to ask the one that seems to be the most pervasive. And although I do not intend to speak for all Black people, what I will say is this and I have been [inaudible 00:00:22]. How long can we continue to let symbols that represent hate, murder, lynching, rape, fly in the face of the Black people who those symbols really are present to? I could not erect statues of Nazi soldiers or fly a Swastika flag, but yet every day we have to see those symbols. And now a flag has been erected across the street from the school that my mom went to, which is a Black high school, named by a Black man for the Black kids to have to see every day. Now I can answer my own questions and I know to most folks it don’t matter. Maybe it’s a conversation we Black people need to have separately. But how long will this continue to happen, because it makes black people feel as though we’re still considered to be [inaudible 00:01:05]? Thank you
Karl Kachergis: I appreciate your question, and I’d just like to piggy back one more comment during that onto this that you can address these. Do you feel that the board has a role in healing the town once the statue is removed and how or what will you do?
Heather Johnson: Thank you for this very important question and topic. Recently I have been asked to be part of community discussions related to both the symbols that are going up and also about what will happen with the statue. I think it’s very important that as elected officials and as candidates for office at this time, our community is feeling a sense of actual danger and I feel it’s the responsibility of an elected official to work with all of the federal, state, local agencies, now our school board, on solutions.
It doesn’t, in my opinion, help a situation when an elected official states a grandiose emotional response to a very emotional and, right now, dangerous circumstance. I think we should be part of the discussions and listening and I am doing that. I did so last week with some of our fellow elected officials and persons of all race and creed that wanted to have that discussion and figure out some creative solutions. I think the most important thing we can do as elected officials to see to the safety of our citizens at this juncture. After the danger subsides, then I think that we can move forward with some proactive solutions, but to be making statements right now at a really critical time where our citizens need to be kept safe would not be a good service to our citizens. I do think that the discussions need to keep happening and I’m grateful to continuously be a part of those discussions.
Does the town have a role in the healing? Absolutely, and I think that’s what I’m trying to suggest here and I think that some other elected officials have done the same. That healing begins with listening and caring and recognizing that we’re neighbors. We’re not a letter next to our name on a ballot, and we are a community. And if we have a history of loving each other, and caring for one another, and seeing to the best of our community, then as elected leaders and as community leaders, we can help effect that change. I hope that answers part of your question…
Karl Kachergis: Yes it do.
Heather Johnson: …and then[crosstalk 00:04:25] thank you very much for the opportunity to address it.
Jim Nass: Yes, thanks very much for that question. Look, we can talk about this thing forever. Here’s the deal, as far as I’m concerned. The chair of the County Board of Commissioners and Board of Commissioners for Chatham County did exactly the right thing, they did a gutsy move, and they did what should be done. I’ve heard all of this nonsense about, “Well this is a symbol of our heritage. This is a honoring some poor kid that got drafted into fighting this war.” It is not. It’s a symbol of a cause and that cause was the right of one human being to own another, and we got past that after hundreds of thousands died. And then we allowed something almost as evil, Jim Crow state sponsored segregation, to rule over half of this country. And finally with that bravery of African Americans and some Whites, we were able to finally break that down. So let’s not fool ourselves that this is a two sided issue as far as I’m concerned. It’s not.
I look forward to the day that that statute disappears. And then we start to heal, and one of the things I’m going to be working very hard for is to see if we can’t get a statue of George Moses Horton put it in the place of that statue that’s there now. I think that will do a whole lot to begin the healing within this community. I think we have to speak up plainly and clearly on this topic. If we don’t, I think we’re hiding. We have a chance here to make this community whole. We have a chance here to make our African American brethren, our Latinos, our Gay, our Trans, to all feel perfectly welcomed in this community. And we need to all join hands to do that, and we start out by telling the truth about what represents what.
Jay Farrell: As someone that was born and raised here in Pittsburgh, the statue up there to me has never represented any of this White supremacy, racism, or anything. No hate to me, that’s the way I’ve perceived it. I have nothing regarding that that had ever been spoken to me in that way. I ran the halls of this courthouse in the sixties and seventies and never my grandfather, father, ever said anything about the statue being racist. With that said, definitely I’m not supportive of these confederate flags in town. I have talked to numerous gentlemen that are with these organizations. I’ve begged them, pleaded them to take them down. I have asked, “What does the town need to do?” Of course, they say they’re within the town ordinance now. I don’t know the solution, I really don’t. I think we really need to work together. These protests in town, I’ve had to shut my restaurant down early, business is off, all businesses downtown are off. It’s really dividing the town. If I had a solution right now, I’d put it out there and let you to know what it is but I think like Jim said, we need to work together as a group and come together as a town. Thank you.
Pam Cash-Roper: Do you he’s…
Karl Kachergis: ure. You’ve got something to say, say it.
Pam Cash-Roper: Yeah. Okay, well he was raising his hand and I don’t want to ignore someone. Sorry, but yeah, I have a problem with the statue. I have a problem with the flags. I don’t want the statue torn down illegally because that’s just going to make it even worse. We need a solution that works and get it gone. But don’t tear it down illegally.
Speaker 4: Excuse me Miss? I’m (inaudible) . Don’t you think we aught to educate the people that the South didn’t win the war? They don’t have the right to put up anythings including statues.
Pam Cash-Roper: I agree.
Speaker 4: You don’t do that whenever you go to a country and take it over. So therefore, the North won the war. So teach them that they don’t have that right. Don’t you think that would be a good start?
Pam Cash-Roper That would be a great start.
Speaker 4: Because they have not been educated.
Pam cash-Roper: You’re exactly right.
Speaker 4: Well they’ve been educated, miseducated but I think the biggest problem is not educating in the cities.
Speaker 6: Can we still pass it down.
Pam Cash-Roper: Yeah pass it[crosstalk 00:09:43]
Speaker 5: Let’s stick with that question.
Karl Kachergis: Okay. Anybody else commenting on the question? Yes,
Kyle Shipp: Sure.
Speaker 6: I would like to hear from everyone on the panel regarding that question.
Karl Kachergis: Thank you.
Pam Cash-Roper: Yes.
Kyle Shipp: Yes, agreed. So every town I go to, actually I look for monuments to soldiers, because I am one and that’s really important to me. When I came to this town, that’s what I looked at that as and I know a lot of other people do. It says right on the statue, CSA 1861-1865, which is when the confederate states was over and done. So the Confederate flags, I don’t understand. I do know that they are protected speech, but I think there has to be something that we can do about them, particularly across from the school. And I’ve been out in the community talking to folks and I know that those flags are a major problem, and I see the problem, and I see the strife that they have brought to this town that I came to because it’s a very open, welcoming town.
Kyle Shipp: And as Jay said, it is affecting local businesses. Businesses are closing on the circle. I live downtown, I don’t want to go walk by the protestors myself and I can only try to imagine what other people in town feel like. So I’m concerned overall, I can’t imagine the… I’m going to go off the rails here for maybe a second, but the treatment that people had coming home from Vietnam and I didn’t have that treatment when I came home because Vietnam Veterans came and met me every single time I came home. I think that’s really important, but I think the people with the flags up are tying that to that statue, which it may have always been tied to and I don’t think that they can remain.
Speaker 6: All right. Thank you.
Bridget Perry: I think that the county has made the right decision in wanting to remove the statue. I think that it’s something that perhaps, well it doesn’t belong in the center of our town and I think the flags are just terrible. But I think it gives the town the opportunity to let the rest state, let the rest of the world know that this isn’t us. That we as neighbors and citizens and business owners and leaders need to come together and come up with a great statement, whatever that might be. I don’t know what it is and I’d love input from everybody here how we can tell the rest of the world that this is not us, and we don’t like it at all.
Speaker 6: Thank you.
Lonnie West: As a former soldier for 26 years, I can tell you in the military, a lot of people think it’s very autocratic and they make decisions and then you follow that. You can actually argue in the military, you can talk and give other ideas and everything until the commander makes the decision. And once he makes the decision, it’s “Aye aye Sir,” and you carry on. That is what the local people that are protesting the removal of the statue have not learned. Once the decision is made, then you go on. That’s the decision of a populace, the elected officials, and you should follow that, that is my thing. And regardless of whatever feelings someone had before, once the decision is made, that’s it, let’s move forward.
John Bonitz: I want to thank you Eric Hall for this question. I think it’s a really, really important question. And Karl, thank you for the followup question. And I also want to express great gratitude to Jim Nass for being so candid and so straightforward. I agree with much of what has been said. I think that the challenge here, I’m going to be a little bit radical and step out. I’m a White male and so I will never fully understand what it’s like to be a person of color or another minority that has experienced discrimination or worse. But I was raised to listen and raised to understand the importance of keeping an open mind and engaging in difficult conversations is actually something that I’m fairly comfortable with. I don’t know why I’m just peculiarly quick with that. But I also want to express great gratitude to commissioner and mayor Pro tempore, Pamela Baldwin, whom I sit next to on the board, whom I’m honored to serve with, because she said regarding the statue, “It’s not about the statue, it’s about what’s in our hearts, what’s in people’s hearts.”
Bridget Perry got it exactly right, that this is an opportunity for our community to really dive into these conversations and understand one another’s humanity. It’s all so easy to see someone else as the other. That is something that I confess as a White male, born and raised in the South, I am grappling with myself. I am grappling with my own internalized racism. As Mike Wiley, my neighbor in Chatham Forest pointed out during speeches to the County commissioners who made this decision, “Racism is like water.” And for White folks, we can’t describe water. It’s like for a fish in water, the fish can’t describe water, we can’t describe racism. We have to engage these conversations constantly if we are to hope to become better people and improve our society. The board can certainly contribute to this in many ways and I am very open to ideas on how that should happen. Thank you.