Reidsville Confederate monument reignites controversy

Ira Tilley addresses the press about the potential for a lawsuit against the City of Reidsville regarding the Confederate monument.

By: Danielle Battaglia
September 25, 2011

The Reidsville Confederate monument debate has once again become a hot topic in Reidsville, after the Historical Political Action Committee held a press conference at Mural Park on Thursday to discuss an eight-page letter sent to city officials suggesting the city acted illegally by removing the base of the monument.

According to Reidsville Police Department reports, The monument met its demise on May 23, after Mark Anthony Vincent of Greensboro fell asleep behind the wheel of his van, striking the monument and knocking the statue off its base and shattering it.

City manager Michael Pearce, who received the letter, said he believed there had been closure to the issue and said he was disappointed the group felt it couldn’t just come talk with him.

During the press conference, a member of the HPAC, Norris Aikens, said they did try to contact Pearce but were prevented from speaking with him. However, in an interview, HPAC vice-president Diane Parnell said the group did not intend to contact the city until after the letter was sent and the press conference was held.

HPAC public relations officer Ira Tilley said the group wants this situation to be a win-win for everyone. Tilley said he wants the monument restored and later have a vote regarding whether to take it back down or not.

“It all goes back to the basic principle that we’re taught if you have an accident, let’s fix it, let’s make it right,” Tilley said. “If there is a certain faction of the population who doesn’t want it there then let’s go through the proper channels to work with them to come to this resolve.”

Reidsville resident Wayne Clifton witnessed the HPAC press conference and later said the city did not listen to the will of the people and this group may finally bring justice. Clifton said the local UDC was not asked its opinion and the matter went directly to the state UDC.

Pearce said the morning of the accident local UDC members asked him to call state UDC president Aileen Ezelle regarding what to do with the monument.

Parnell said Ezelle said in a conversation with Ira Tilley she was asked by a city official to not put the statue back in the traffic circle. She agreed because she didn’t want to see the UDC’s name dragged through the mud.

Pearce said the city was unable to find evidence it owned the monument, and as far as he knows, the state UDC took a vote on what to do regarding the monument.

Racism was also a topic of conversation at the press conference. The members of the HPAC have said this is not a racist issue.

“To me it represents the soldiers who went off to war to fight,” Tilley said. “The monument was erected for all soldiers of Rockingham County. That’s why we have such a large group.”

Aikens said he believes emotions allow people to turn this issue into a racist one, but doesn’t feel it is right.

“That’s what happens in times like these,” Aikens said. “We forget who we are and what we’re about and start leaning on emotions. It can be, and for some is, a black and white issue, and that’s because emotions have gotten involved and are not backed in truth.”

Several Facebook groups have been set up to help save the Reidsville monument. Some of these groups’ pages are filled with racial slurs and some, though not all, of the HPAC members admit they are followers of these groups.

“I can’t control what others say,” Tilley said. “I don’t agree with the racist comments about anyone or anything. We should be past that.”

Tilley said residents should educate themselves on what the monument is really about.

The press conference became out of hand when Tilley said the wrecking of the monument was an accident.

An audience member asked if the HPAC was still thinking this was an accident. He added, “I don’t believe in Santa Claus no more.”

The man, who refused to give his name to avoid retaliation, said in similar fashion, several other Confederate monuments have been knocked down. “They said they’re going to take down the one in Chapel Hill next, the one at the University of North Carolina.”

The man, who would only say he is a Rockingham County resident, said he did not know who “they” are, but he knows “they” are a group, who called for the Chapel Hill confederate monument to be knocked over next, and wants to take all the Confederate monuments down.

Tilley told the crowd to stay positive and that they have to trust what Anthony’s testimony said.  The HPAC also said during the press conference they do not want to have to take legal action regarding the Confederate monument.

Reidsville Mayor James K. Festerman said on Friday he had not seen the letter himself, as it was sent to Pearce, but he knows it has been given to the city attorney to look into.

“Anytime there is pending legal action against the city, the city attorney briefs us in closed session and makes a recommendation on what action the city should take,” Festerman said.

Pearce said the city attorney is currently reviewing the letter, and the city will respond accordingly.

On The Web:   http://www2.godanriver.com/news/2011/sep/25/reidsville-confederate-monument-reignites-controve-ar-1334757/