History or racism? Debate continues in Reidsville
By Danielle Battaglia
June 08, 2011
REIDSVILLE, N.C. —
Dozens of Reidsville residents flocked to Wednesday afternoon’s city council meeting to debate whether the city’s Confederate soldier statue is a symbol of history or racism.
“This has become a black and white thing again,” said Reidsville resident Floyd Slade.
The statue was toppled May 23 when, according to police, Mark Anthony Vincent of Greensboro fell asleep at the wheel of his van shortly before 5 a.m. and crashed into the monument, causing the statue to shatter into several pieces.
City officials are trying to determine whether the statue — which has stood watch over downtown Reidsville for more than 100 years — should be repaired and returned to the top of the monument.
It was clear Wednesday there was a division among those residents who attended the meeting, but it was not entirely along racial lines. Members of both races held both opinions.
Still, there was underlying tension in the room where at least 35 people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I think people should celebrate heritage,” said resident Gregory Lee. “But I want you to understand that me coming up here as a child and seeing that statue every day of my life and seeing and getting older and becoming knowledgeable of what the statue stood for, what they fought for, what they died for, had an affect on me, whether you believe it or not.”
Lee said the statue also affected his classmates, himself and his family, and will impact his nieces, nephews and even grandchildren if it gets rebuilt.
Another resident said seeing the statue every day hurt because he was called names, pushed around and harassed as a child for the color of his skin.
Shawna Deford, an Elon University student who was raised in Rockingham County, said she thinks the argument shouldn’t even be raised, because this is part of her heritage, as her ancestors fought for the Confederacy. She also feels the statue wasn’t an issue until now.
“This issue wasn’t even brought up because members of this town felt strongly enough to bring it up, but because someone hit it on accident,” said Deford.
Sherry Blackburn also had family who fought for the Confederacy. She had other family members that fought for the Union. For her, the statue is a reminder of a horrible past for her family and the country.
“I would think in the year of 2011, that we would show respect towards one another, regardless of the color of our skin or our attitude towards one another, that we would simply be able to show respect for a past that has been very, very hurtful to many people.” said Blackburn. “I don’t need a stark reminder of that terrible event in our nation’s history, that broke my family apart, so I resent that it even stands there at all as a monument to the city I live in.”
Blackburn’s family isn’t alone in experiencing division because of the statue controversy. Some residents said they feel the issue will divide the city.
“I’d hate to see a statue split the city in half,” said the Rev. R. L. Walkins. “I’d hate to see us go backwards. Sometimes there is a time you need to move forward.”
Others said they see it as a marker to honor their relatives who died in the war. Jaime Funkhouser had an ancestor in the Confederate army whose body was tossed to the sea, and the family was unable to have a burial site.
“I see it as a marker for a family member thrown to sea,” said Funkhouser.
Funkhouser drove from Winston-Salem earlier Wednesday morning to show his support and bring awareness that there was a meeting at City Hall Wednesday.
Dressing as a Confederate solider, Funkhouser took on the post of the statue, standing in the traffic circle on the corner of West Market Street and Scales Street.
Arriving at dawn, Funkhouser took his post and stood in front of the monument, waving at cars driving past.
Cars stopped to honk, wave and take pictures of Funkhouser. While some approved of his presence, a crowd standing next to Reidsville Library gathered with their arms folded and frowns on their faces, shaking their heads in his direction.
Several people also spoke out against Vincent during the meeting, with one resident calling for him to pay in full for repairs to the statue, regardless of how much it will cost him. The man also said if the city doesn’t make Vincent pay, the city should be sued.
Some other speakers said they don’t want tax money to pay for repairs. Other residents also think the monument should be moved somewhere more appropriate, whether that be a museum, a park or the Rockingham County Veteran’s Memorial in Wentworth. In its place, people suggested a garden, a fountain or a flagpole.
For the most part, residents kept peaceful during the meeting. Mayor James K. Festerman did have to ask for the Reidsville Police Department to be mindful of the audience after a few rude comments were directed toward a speaker, but, as Festerman had predicted recently, those in attendance were respectful toward one another for the most part.
Festerman said he does not know when a decision will be made on the future of the monument, and the city is still dealing with legal matters regarding the statue, including who actually owns it. Most likely, Festerman said, it will be a slow process.
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