Reidsville remains firm on Confederate monument decision

By McClatchy News Service
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Reidsville City Council doesn’t plan to return the Confederate monument to downtown. That was made clear during the council meeting Wednesday, March 13, as members responded to comments from the crowd and also addressed the recent resolution by county commissioners.

Council members said it’s tiring to continue to hear about the monument.

“We made our decision,” Mayor James Festerman said. “We’ve done what we needed. We’ve taken our action.”

Festerman said groups like the Historical Preservation Action Committee may feel the city needs to take action on the monument, but he said there’s nothing more for them to do.

City attorney William McLeod agreed, adding the council took action and it doesn’t need to do anything else.

“The only other action is what we are going to do,” Festerman said.

During a January council meeting, members looked over eight options of what to place in the traffic circle besides the Confederate monument. City Manager Michael Pearce said during that meeting he planned to discuss the options in more details in the future.

As for county commissioners, the council expressed annoyance towards the resolution. Festerman said he had lunch Wednesday, March 13 with one of the county commissioners and said they “had a frank conversation” about the resolution, but he didn’t go into details regarding the conversation or which commissioner he met.

Council members also readdressed rumors circulating in the community. In a past council meeting, Festerman referred to rumors over the security of Pearce’s job. Festerman said he heard the council attempted to vote Pearce out and that never happened. This prompted Festerman to request a resolution from the council, in late February, supporting Pearce.

In regards to the rumors, Johnson said he felt some of the things being said could be considered libelous. McLeod agreed.

Residents ask for monument’s return

Members of the Historical Preservation Action Committee spoke during the public comments section of the meeting, asking for the monument to be returned.

“I just want to remind you folks, the people want the monument back in the original location it resided in for 101 years before the accident on May 23, 2011,” HPAC spokesperson Ira Tilley said.

County resident Norris Aikens spoke after Tilley, asking the council to place the monument back.

“I’m here also in support of having that monument go back to its original space,” Aikens said. “I agree with Ira, it’s the right thing to do.”

Aikens cited the government’s lack of morals as a reason why they haven’t replaced the monument.

“One of the reasons I see this nation going down, [sic] we have a lot of trouble is because many leaders are making decisions that lack moral principal,” Aikens said. “It’s a moral principal to replace something that has been destroyed.”

Tilley told the council he noticed a lack of transparency regarding actions it took in dealing with the monument.

“I think transparency is a major issue,” Tilley said, “not only in Washington, but here in Reidsville, as well.”

Tilley questioned why the council refused to be more forthcoming with information.

“I’d like for you guys to let the public know, ‘Why is this happening?’” Tilley said. “Why are we here? We have so many problems in this county that we need to address but this situation has taken so much time and energy away from the real problems that plague Rockingham County. Personally, I think it brings disappointment and shame to our county and to our city.”

Tilley told the council he respectfully asked for the return of the monument to the traffic circle. He said he knew he spoke on behalf of “thousands and thousands” of people. Tilley told the council if it offends someone, to allow them to come before the council and ask for it to be removed again.

Aikens said HPAC plans to continue reminding city council the monument needs to be returned to the intersection.

“We expect it to be replaced,” Aiken said. “We want to continue to remind members of the [council] that it’s the right thing to do. No matter what happens we will continue to remind you it’s the right thing to do.”

The pair spoke in regards to the city’s 101-year-old Confederate monument which once stood in the intersection at West Morehead Street and South Scales Street. The monument became controversial after a Greensboro resident drove into the monument destroying the soldier on top and damaging its base. 

During his comments, Tilley said he didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.

“There’s been a lot of things said in the last couple of years,” Tilley said. “A lot of hurt feelings and a lot of unnecessary things that I think were said about this and it didn’t have to happen. Accidents happen everyday but it’s what we do after the accident that really counts.”

Council members disagree with residents

The council must refrain from addressing citizens during public comment portions of the meeting and so members were unable to address Tilley and Aikens until their individual reports. Both men left the meeting by then.

Councilman Richard Johnson spoke up on the issue during his report. He addressed HPAC and included comments about Rockingham County’s recent resolution favoring replacing the monument in the traffic circle.

“I think that the continued use of this monument is a divisive one and it has divided our county,” Johnson said. “The county [commissioners] recently made a resolution to us to return our monument, which is not actually their business, but I’m just wanting to say that if we can not get past this monument and what it means to many people and what it means to other people than I don’t think there will be an opportunity for this county to heal.”

Johnson said it was time to let things go, in order for the area to heal.

“In order for us to heal we’re going to have to get past our issues with this monument as a people together,” Johnson said. “It’s not a white thing. It’s not a black thing. It’s a Rockingham County citizens thing. If we want to grow and we want to come together than we have to let certain things go.”

Copyright © 2013 Halifax Media Group

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