by Diane Rufino, August 4, 2021
The Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument, sitting on the corner out in front of the Pitt County Courthouse, where it has proudly and majestically stood from November 11, 1914 until the Pitt County Commissioners (7-2), the diabolical cowards that they are, had it removed on June 22, 2020.
The following is a history of the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument and its removal from the Pitt County Courthouse premises:
The Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument is a simple yet eloquent memorial to the Confederate soldiers who died in the War Between the States. It presents a common soldier statue situated atop a tall tapered column. The soldier stands with his arms crossed as they rest atop the muzzle of his rifle with the butt resting on the ground in front of him. He wears a Confederate uniform with a wide brimmed hat. The column bears a bas-relief image of a Confederate flag unfurled around its pole. The plinth contains a medallion above the inscription, and the initials of the Confederate States of America are engraved on the cap above.
The Confederate Soldiers Monument, dedicated to “Our Confederate Dead” and “Erected by the People of Pitt County in Grateful Remembrance of the Courage and Fortitude of Her Confederate Soldiers,” was dedicated on November 11, 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It is clearly a monument reflecting an important period in our American and North Carolina history, as well as being a monument of remembrance. Its inscription reads: “Theirs was not to make reply, Theirs was not to reason why. Theirs was but to do and die.”
There is quite a distinguished and honorable history associated with the monument (also considered as a memorial). During the days of July 19 to 23, 1863, Greenville was raided as part of the Union effort under General Edward Potter to disable the rail routes in the eastern part of the state along with the cotton mills at Rocky Mount. Potter’s advance through New Bern, Kinston, Greenville, Rocky Mount, and Tarboro has become known as Potter’s Raid. Potter and his troops entered Greenville on Sunday the 19th without being met by Confederate troops. Locals reported widespread looting by the Union soldiers following the departure of the troops late in the afternoon.
The Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument has been the subject of calls for removal since 2006. A group of citizens petitioned The County Commissioners requesting removal of the towering and distinguished statue from its position on the front corner of the Pitt County Courthouse. On Monday, June 15, 2020, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners voted 7-2 (the two members being Tom Coulson and Lauren White) to immediately remove and relocate the monument. This decision apparently came in the wake of civil protest around the country and in our state following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 by police.
The monument was removed on June 22 and June 23, 2020, under cover of night, and relocated to storage. Apparently, it was Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance who arranged for the crane and the demolition crew. Its location would not be revealed to the public. However, after more than a year since the monument was taken down from the courthouse premises, the question of where it will be relocated has still not been addressed. Would those same board members approve a motion to go through the many Pitt County cemeteries and have particular grave headstones removed? Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin McLawhorn indicated that the board would make a decision where to relocate the monument in accordance with state law. And officials suggested that removal, storage, and relocation might cost upwards of $100,000, of course to be borne by the taxpayers. One suggestion for its new location was offered by Mr. Ephraigm Smith, a former County Commission, and that would be on his property, the Pig Palace which is located on Hwy 43 in the Chicod section of Pitt County (private property). It was suggested that the Sons of Confederate Veterans (https://scv.org) take ownership of the monument in order that it remain in the hands of a non-profit public organization rather than private hands. On July 30 of this year the Commissioners adopted this proposal, thus “gifting” the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans with certain restrictions (including requiring the monument to be relocated to a suitable site within Pitt County). Further discussion included having Ephraigm Smith lease his property, The Pig Palace, to the SCV, for purposes of the relocation. [As of August 2, 2021, Mr. Smith has not signed any such lease]. As he has stated in an interview with Amber Lake of WITN: “It’s a part of history. It’s probably not a part of history that we all will appreciate, but it is a part of the history of the South and North nonetheless.”
In the same story by Ms. Lake, a Chicod resident has this to say: “The monument doesn’t represent us. And what does it represent? It represents division in the United States and right now, we don’t really need anymore especially where it’s sitting on Hwy 43, a major highway, right next to an elementary school and right down the road from a high school. This sends a bad message.”
A monument, like a work of art, offers different interpretations to different people. There is no copyright on an interpretation. The monument may not represent that particular Chicod resident, but the monument was not dedicated or erected for him. It was dedicated to all the residents of Pitt County. It is part of the legacy of Pitt County and North Carolina in general.
Myron Rouse, a Pitt County resident, commented for another WITN article on the subject: “The monument is not a problem with me because hatred is in the heart. Not in a statue. But at the same time, I understand that a lot of people don’t want to visualize it on public property. This is where we come in a courthouse and we try to get blind justice and so often we don’t receive it so to start off before you even walk in, to see the symbol of racism, the courthouse is just not the proper place for it.”
Pastor Kenneth Jones, also a Pitt County resident, offered this comment at one Commissioner meeting: “I would like to see it out back. That doesn’t mean it necessarily will be. You can’t destroy America because of certain things individuals don’t like.”
By demolishing the foundation to the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument, the County Commissioners have evidenced their intent to be “rid of the monument” and of their intent to never have it removed to the Pitt County Courthouse premises. By having Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance there to supervise adds an element of complicity, a layer of government over-reach, and frankly, a threat of local tyranny.
The monument was “gifted to the People of Pitt County to honor the legacy of their county by the United Daughters of the Confederacy; it was not gifted to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners.
Most of this information comes from the site: https://www.ncpedia.org/monument/pitt-county-confederate
As history shows, the great majority of Confederate soldiers were from small farms, just barely getting by, and not having any slaves. For all we know, the individual soldiers had individual opinions and views concerning the War to Prevent Southern Independence (aka, the War Between the States). Some certainly supported the secession movement and supported defending their new country, and some certainly supported slavery (or were ambiguous on the position). Others may have opposed the secession of the southern states, opposed the war, and opposed the institution of slavery. It is also known that North Carolina suffered the highest number of losses of any state in the Confederacy at the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863, in Gettysburg, PA), with a staggering 6,124 casualties. Statistically, that amounts to 25% (1 out of every 4) of all Confederate dead in that historic and significant battle. Yes, North Carolina more than paid the price for defending the Confederate States of America. In fact, some historians (noted on a monument at Gettysburg) estimate that 1 out of every 7 soldiers who died on the many battlefields of the War was from North Carolina.
Clyde Wilson, a noted historian of the Confederacy and member of the Abbeville Institute, published a short manual titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me” in 2016. In this manual, he wrote:
“When we had the controversy over the Confederate flag in South Carolina in 2000, some 90 or more historians issued a statement declaring that the war was about slavery and nothing but slavery and that all contrary explanations are invalid. Fifty years ago, however, the foremost American historians believed that the war was primarily about economic interests and that slavery was a lesser issue (it became an issue only when it became politically expedient to raise it). The Kindergarten lesson of history is that human experience can be seen from more than one perspective. Never let yourself be put down by a so-called expert who claims to know more about ancestors than you do. The qualities needed for understanding history are not some special expertise but are the same qualities you look for in a good juror – the ability to examine the evidence and weigh it impartially and fairly. And history is not some disembodied truth. All history is the story of somebody’s experience. When we talk about the War it is our history we are talking about; it is part of our identity. To tell libelous lies about our ancestors is a direct attack on who we are. It is right and natural for all people to honor their forefathers. We have every right to honor our Confederate forebearers because they are ours. But there is more to it than that. We Southerners are especially fortunate in our forefathers. (The greatest minds of our founding generation came from the South. The supreme intellect that was able to craft our admirable founding documents – Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence and James Madison with the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights – were citizens of Virginia. Also, the first 7 of our 12 US presidents hail from the South). Our Southern forebearers not only won a place in our hearts, as their descendants, but they also won the lasting admiration of everyone in the civilized world who values an indominable spirit in defense of Freedom and Liberty… Foreigners have a great advantage in judging the right and wrong of the War Between the States. They do not automatically assume that everything Yankees did and do is righteous, true, and unselfish. They view Yankees without the rose-colored glasses with which Yankees view themselves. (Remember, the victors get the benefit of ‘telling the story’).
The most basic simple fact about the War is that it was a war of invasion and conquest. (It was a war to destroy the founding principle, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, of secession as an inherent and an inalienable right of each sovereign state. In fact, the Declaration itself was a secessionist document.). Once you get clear on this basic fact, everything else falls into place. This is no secret. It is plain in the record. The rulers of the North openly declared that it was a war of conquest, to crush and punish disobedience to government, to establish a powerful central government (as Alexander Hamilton originally called for), and to keep the South captive, as a source of wealth to benefit Northern businesses, infrastructure, and politicians. Abraham Lincoln’s pretty words about ‘saving the union’ and ‘saving government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ were merely window dressing and the exact opposite of the truth. His War was not at all for the purpose of preserving the Union. It was for the purpose of turning the Union into something that it was not meant to be.
The US government, comprised of representation from the Northern states and border states and under the control of a minority party (the Republican Party) launched a massive invasion of the South (note that almost all the battles were fought in the South, including the horrendous “March to the Sea” which involved a scorched-earth policy to inflict the maximum amount of damage and destruction). The Union destroyed the democratic, legitimate elected governments of fourteen Southern states (The Confederate States of America), killed as many of our forefathers as they possibly could, and then deprived them of their citizenship, deprived the former Confederate States of their rightful representation in Congress, subjected them to military occupation (under the punitive Reconstruction Acts), and did many other things that no American, North or South, could previously have imagined were possible. The War was so unpopular in the North that thousands of people (who, by the way, may not have owned slaves, but were fervently anti-black) were imprisoned by Lincoln and the Union Army without due process and elections (mainly in the border states) were conducted at bayonet point, and they had to import 300,000 foreign mercenaries to fill up its army.
What was the main reason the Southern states seceded? Historians refuse to accept what those states plainly said: that they were tired of being ripped off by federal legislation that picked their pockets to siphon money for the benefit some people and select businesses in the North, that they could prove that this was the real economic effect of the Tariff (of Abominations, of 1828, then in 1832, and finally, Lincoln promised to raise the tariff back to its highest level. It was called the ‘Tariff of Abominations’ because of the effects it had on the Southern economy. It set a 38% tax on some imported goods and a 45% tax on certain imported raw materials.), and that they thought the Union should be of mutual benefit to all the states father than a burden to some in order to benefit others. (In fact, the Constitution was adopted by the states on the condition that it would create a ‘common government’ to manage the states equally).”
There are additional books on the subject, written by intellectually credible authors, including: “Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States: The Irrefutable Argument,” by Gene Kizer Jr, “The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths,” by Leonard M. Scruggs (a native of North Carolina), and “Is Davis a Traitor: Or Was Secession a Constitutional Right Previous to the War,” by Albert Taylor Bledsoe (originally published right after the War, in 1866), and “Southern Independence: Why War?” by Charles T. Pace (forward by Clyde Wilson).
Southerners are the most regionally loyal citizens of the United States. But paradoxically – or not – they have traditionally been the most loyal to the country at large, ready to repel insult or injury even though historically they have been the most vilified, maligned, and ridiculed people of the United States. Their loyalty has been severely tested, especially considering that all they ever asked was to be left alone.
Getting back to the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument, One citizen opposed to the monument called it “racist and oppressive.” Another said the monument was “erected to intimidate Negros when the Klan were riding through and burning homes and lynching people.” Jerry McRoy, enjoying a family legacy dating back to the American Revolution era, offers his esteemed view: “I see this monument as part of our local legacy… NOT as a legacy of hate, oppression, or subjugation, but rather, as a legacy of the bravery of the soldiers who laid down their lives to protect this county and this state. The Confederate soldiers memorialized by this monument were serving their country and their state with true loyalty. They were being true to themselves, to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and to their forefathers. They had something the seven duplicitous City County Commissions seem to lack… loyalty and fortitude. The grit and determination in their convictions drove their service and sacrifice…. And sustained and justified their last full measure.”
Officials elected by the people are obligated to abide by the laws of the state of North Carolina. They are not above the law and are not expected to break laws of the state and the federal government. They are not expected to betray the public trust; they are not expected to pander to one racial or ideological group over another or others. The seven Criminals, I mean, Commissioners, imputed a racist message to the monument when, in all honesty and clarity, none existed. The monument was simply a memorial to the young men who fought and died for their country, their state, and their new nation, just as a cemetery headstone memorializes the person interned below it. The Confederate Dead monument does not have a single inscription referencing slavery or the supremacy of the white race. In fact, there is no mention of slavery at all. It does not glorify the war nor promote any ill-motivated reason for fighting against the Union Army. It is facially neutral. Any racial overtone or racist connotation is merely a figment of one’s imagination. As Jerry McRoy noted in his letters to the local paper and to individual Commissioners: “Hatred is not found in a statue or monument. It starts in the mind of the individual and flows from animus in the heart.”
All said and done, the 7 members of the Pitt County Board of Commissioners (“The County Criminals” aka, “The County Cowards” aka, “The Criminal Enterprise Known as the Pitt County Board of Commissioners”) missed a golden opportunity to use the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument issue as a chance to educate members of society, of Pitt County, on the War Between the States, the events leading up to it and the reasons the Southern States decided to leave the Union and form a new independent country, as was their sovereign right to do so. Objects, monuments, statues… they are connected to history. And again, the fundamental lesson of history is that human experience can be seen from more than one perspective.
We can’t erase history or shove it down into the black recesses of history books that are never read merely because some people find the “story” offensive. History is not a series of events that entertain the senses and delight the soul; sometimes it’s painful and a reminder of a time in our past when we didn’t live up to our founding principles. But still, it’s part of history. It provides an opportunity for individuals to discuss, debate, and learn; it provides an opportunity to share their views.
The lasting consequence of this dubious action, clearly in violation of North Carolina General Statute G.S. §100-2.1 (“Protection of Monuments, Memorials, and Works of Art”) and also in violation of federal Executive Order 13933 (signed June 26, 2020), may be to resurrect racism where it hasn’t existed for many many years.
Clearly, there are many potential legal challenges to the actions of the 7 Pitt County Commissioners and I wouldn’t put it past the good and decent citizens of Pitt County to pursue them. Some remedies which I know have been discussed include: ((a) The mandatory (if not voluntary) resignation of the 7 County Criminals, including County Manager Elliott; (b) The mandatory (if not voluntary) resignation of Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance; and (c) Relocating the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument back to its original place at the courthouse. There are certainly others, but it’s not my place to give those plans away.
If anyone would like more information about the monument’s removal, about the criminal conduct of the seven members of the Pitt County Board of Commissioners, the illegal action taken by Sheriff Paula Dance, or if anyone would like to get involved to see justice done regarding the actions taken by the Commissioners and in doing so, to once again bring honor to those Pitt County Confederate soldiers who gave their last full measure, please contact Mr. Jerry McRoy at (908) 246-8881. Concerned citizens can make a difference !!