HPAC, SCV file lawsuit against Reidsville
By: Danielle Battaglia
April 03, 2012
Two organizations have filed lawsuits against the city of Reidsville and three state organizations in another attempt to return the Reidsville Confederate Monument to the roundabout at Scales and Morehead streets.
The Historic Preservation Action Committee (HPAC) and the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) had their attorney, Peter H. Ledford, file a lawsuit against the city of Reidsville, the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources (NCDCR) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).
The lawsuit was filed in response to the actions each organization took in regards to the Reidsville Confederate Monument, which stood in the intersection of Scales Street and West Morehead Street for 101 years. The monument was shattered last May after a Greensboro man, Mark Anthony Vincent, drove his car into the monument. The statue on top broke into pieces but the base remained, for the most part, intact, though shifted from its original position.
Reidsville city officials received notice of the lawsuit March 26. Reidsville Mayor James K. Festerman and City Manager Michael Pearce both said they really couldn’t comment on the document, as they had just received it, but they had turned it over to city attorney William McLeod to look over. The city has 30 days to respond.
Many HPAC members do not live in the city, including HPAC spokesperson and Rockingham County resident Ira Tilley, who explained the thought process behind the lawsuit.
“Unfortunately, you know, the city took the monument down without going through the proper channels, which would have been to contact NCDCR and NCDOT,” Tilley said. “We’re having to bring the NCDCR and DOT into this because they ruled (in a declaratory ruling filed Dec. 7) we have no standing.”
The local chapter of the UDC has been vocal about the issue and has often stood with HPAC during its protests outside City Hall since the May 23 accident. Now the UDC, on a state level, is being sued.
“As far as the UDC is concerned, she is maintaining, she meaning Ms. (Aileen) Ezell (President of the state UDC) maintains for some reason she thinks, I know partly why, Mr. Pearce told her that they (the UDC) own the monument, but she believes in her heart for some reason that they own all the monuments in North Carolina and they don’t,” Tilley said. “It’s public property, which is why we’re having to include them.”
Ezell said Monday morning she has not been served with papers and has no knowledge of a lawsuit.
Tilley said he knows for a fact the state owns the monument. NCDOT denied owning it in its declaratory ruling saying, “Petitioners are incorrect – NCDOT has never acquired title or control over either the Property or the Monument.”
NCDOT said in the ruling the city owns the property and always has. However, the real issue isn’t who owns the land, but who owns the monument itself.
Both NCDCR and NCDOT said in their respective rulings HPAC had no right to bring forth a declaratory ruling because “they are not the persons aggrieved.”
However, HPAC provided a list of people claiming to have been economically impacted by the removal of the monument. Twelve of the 15 people listed were called regarding this claim, though only four, including Tilley, could be reached for comment.
Chris McMichael, owner of First Tee, which was listed as being economically impacted, said, “I don’t think it’s affected my business. Of course we’ve supported them by doing the t-shirts and the magnets, trying to help the committee and I don’t think it’s hurt our business as far as retail or manufacturing, but, you know, we’re just trying to do all we can to help that group move forward.”
Dean Craddock, owner of Craddock’s Studio of Photography, said, “It’s kind of hard to tell. This whole area has been, Reidsville has been, so economically depressed for a number of years, and an issue like this does not help Reidsville because it’s negative. It’s negative. We need positive things for Reidsville.”
Craddock said suing the city is not a negative thing, but a positive move to get the monument back up.
Both Craddock and McMichael have lived in Reidsville most of their lives and see the historical impact the monument has on the city. Obie Chambers of Obie Chambers and Associates Surveying said he sides with HPAC because of his interest in the historical aspect of the issue, but declined further comment.
Craddock said the monument was dedicated to all the veterans from Rockingham County who fought in the Civil War. Craddock said this has nothing to do with race, and racism came into the argument because the Civil War involved slaves. “A lot of them were black slaves,” said Craddock, “but a lot fought and died for the Confederate army.” Craddock said the issue is removing a piece of history, and placing the monument in Greenview Cemetery, which, he said, is like burying history.
Neither Craddock nor McMichael knew much about the lawsuit, but both said they support HPAC and the decisions they are making in order to rebuild the monument in the Scales Street intersection.
Tilley said, “We’re doing this regretfully, we’re not happy about doing this. We know we have a lot to do to try to get this resolved. That’s all we basically want. We want what’s done right.”
Tilley said he wants the monument placed back in the intersection and then, if people don’t like it, they can come before the city council and complain, but at least this way, it’s done through the proper channels. Tilley said if it is returned to the intersection, but later taken down, then he would be sorry to see it go, but he would accept it.
The Will of the People, a political watchdog group based in Rockingham County, has also gotten involved in the movement, according to Tilley. He said in a meeting held last week, Thomas S. Harrington, chair of the group, asked for a motion to adopt a resolution to support HPAC. Tilley said the motion passed unanimously, “with applause.”
The monument isn’t the only historical property in Reidsville currently at risk. Chinqua Penn, a mansion built in the 1920s by the Penn family, which unlike the monument brings economic contributions to the community through tours and wedding packages, is up for auction, including the home and its artifacts. However, HPAC is currently not fighting for the mansion to be saved despite being an advocate for historic preservation. Tilley said he’s only one person and he had thought about making phone calls but hasn’t made them thus far.
Tilley also said the organization was formed after the monument was moved and thus, it’s fighting for the monument right now.
Asked what he thinks will come from the lawsuit, Tilley replied, “I’m an optimistic kind of person, and I’m expecting they’ll agree to do the right thing and put it back. From there it’s up to the people.”
Tilley said HPAC hopes the lawsuit doesn’t have to go to trial, but the ball is in the city’s court right now.
NCDCR declined further comment on the lawsuit and, as of early last week, NCDOT officials hadn’t received papers regarding the lawsuit and didn’t return phone calls Monday requesting further comment.
Meanwhile, Reidsville hasn’t seen the last of the monument. According to a press release issued by the UDC in December, it is to be replaced and placed in the Greenview Cemetery near the graves of Confederate soldiers.
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