The battle over the Iredell County Confederate Memorial statue is in a new phase as a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit Tuesday at the Iredell County Hall of Justice. The Iredell County Commissioners now find themselves on the other end of a lawsuit as the statue is located at the Iredell County Government Center in Statesville.
The commissioners stated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans rejecting any movement, it wasn’t going anywhere unless the Board of Commissioners were forced to by a judge.
David Parker, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, hopes that will be the case if an agreement can’t be reached.
“I consider that to be an invitation and we’re happy to see them and have this conversation,” Parker said. “We don’t have to resolve this in a courtroom. It can be resolved out of a courtroom, either in mediation or a conversation.”
In the press release, the plaintiffs mentioned the Iredell County Commissioners’ vote to begin the removal process, before seemingly backtracking, as one of the reasons the lawsuit was filed.
“In fact, on March 3 of this year, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners voted to remove the Confederate Monument, admitting in their Resolution that the Monument ‘occupied a prominent position in front of the justice system during a period of Jim Crow laws, segregation and endemic discrimination against African-Americans,’ and that, for Black residents, the monument ‘continues to serve as a reminder of policies of oppression, having their roots in the system of slavery that existed in the Confederate States of America’. But, after voting to remove the monument, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners changed their mind and brought about the need for this lawsuit,” the plaintiffs said in a press release.
The defendants are listed as Iredell County, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, as well as all of the commissioners, in their official capacity.
The plaintiffs — Christopher A. “Skip” McCall, the Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, NAACP Statesville Branch, NAACP South Iredell Branch, and the Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice, an organization of Iredell County religious leaders — said in their press release the statute is a waste of taxpayer money, threatens public safety, and violates North Carolina’s constitution.
Several of the plaintiffs expressed in the press release why they believed the statue should be moved, stating that its place at the Iredell County Government Center indicates support for the Confederacy and its support of slavery of Black people.
The statue has become a local rallying point since last year’s racial justice protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a former police officer, Derek Chauvin.
Over the last year, there have been protests at the statue asking for it to be moved, which also attracted counter-protesters. Most nights were peaceful, occasionally yelling and screaming between the two sides would occur. One physical confrontation led to one man’s arrest, but most arrests were for disorderly conduct or similar charges.
In court, the plaintiffs will be represented by David and Carey Parker from the Parker Law Offices, as well as attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers LLP. Other attorneys involved include former North Carolina Deputy Attorney General Hampton Dellinger, Cheyenne N. Chambers and Abraham Rubert-Schewel of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen in Charlotte, and Stuart M. Paynter and Gagan Gupta of Paynter Law in Hillsborough. These lawyers are also involved with the pending lawsuits in Gaston and Alamance counties for the removal of Confederate monuments, according to the press release.
Why they want it moved
“Why would you want this statue standing over government property, overlooking the government of Iredell County?” the Rev. Curtis Johnson asked. He is president of the South Iredell NAACP and spoke at the press conference held on the sidewalk near the statue. “It needs to go.”
For McCall, he said his grandmother explained to him as a child that the Confederate Monument in Statesville was “in honor of those people who were killed to keep our people in slavery” and that she prayed she would live long enough to see God remove it. McCall promised her that he would “continue to work as long as there’s breath in my body to satisfy her dreams, her prayers, and her wishes.”
At the press conference Tuesday, he reiterated this isn’t the first time this matter was brought up to the board of commissioners and hoped a lawsuit wasn’t needed.
“We started to address this issue this time, and I say this time simply because it has been attempted several times, we’ve tried to resolve this issue with the statue in a humble, respectful, manner. We did not want it to be removed by someone who was disgruntled and angry and throw a rope around it and snatch it down. We want it to be handled honorably and respectfully,” McCall said.
He said he and others had taken a diplomatic approach, but that the inaction of the board of commissioners made them favor a lawsuit at this time.
“We realized the process of diplomacy wasn’t going to resolve the issue,” McCall said.
Scott, president of the Statesville Branch of the NAACP, had a similar memory of his mother’s thoughts on it and said it was particularly troubling as the commissioners had voted to begin the process of moving it then seemed to change their minds.
“To hear those words from the Commissioners and to hear the words of their Resolution to remove the Monument, only to have the Commissioners break their promise and go back on their words, was heartbreaking,” he said in the press release.
After the press conference, Scott said he had been told previously by an unnamed government official that perhaps something could happen in five to 10 years. But Scott said he and others had waited long enough, which he said lead to filing the lawsuit.
“It’s a big relief off of our chests,” Scott said. “Until you do something, you just don’t know. We tried to negotiate and do everything... it’s in a judge’s hands now.”
Lee said in the release that he knows that the monument is “a celebration of white supremacy and racism,” and “It’s always hard to bring people to Statesville and then have to take them to the restaurants downtown that are right in view of the statue especially if they are people of color, especially if they’re familiar with the history.”
Johnson said in the press release that it was “A glorified symbol of White Supremacy stands guard over the Iredell County Government Center, a place where the government is supposed to serve all of Iredell County’s residents. That is totally unacceptable, as the Commissioners recognized in their March resolution. The Monument must go … peacefully, but it must go. The time is long overdue.”
For Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice, the Rev. Steve Shoemaker said “This Monument in the heart of Statesville has continued to cause anguish in the lives of people of color and moral discomfort to many more, regardless of race and creed. Our faith traditions compel us ‘to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,’ and ‘to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Such neighborly love leads us to our support of the relocation of the Confederate monument.”
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