The controversy over the Confederate soldier statue on the Old Burke County Courthouse Square and Confederate flags that flank both ends of the county on Interstate 40 appears not to be over.
The statue was the site of a clash at the end of June between Black Lives Matter protesters and Sons of Confederate Veterans and others, thinking it was going to be torn down. Some on both sides had weapons and the police finally dispersed the crowd as tensions became heightened.
But the statue’s presence in the center of Morganton, the county seat, as well as the flags, remain contentious.
Several people who want the Confederate items removed or moved to a more appropriate location submitted comments during the Burke County Board of Commissioners meeting this week. Clerk to the Board Kay Draughn read the comments during the board’s public comments portion of the meeting.
Diane Geitner's comments to the board said the statue is a reminder of a shameful past and sends the wrong message to residents, visitors and potential businesses. She proposed that in the current space of the statue, a plaque be set up to honor local lynching victims David Boone and James Lafayette. She also proposed using their First Amendment right to erect a billboard or flag along I-40 near the Confederate flag to counter the hostile message of the flags.
“Why should a U.S. highway have the flag of an enemy nation flying over it?” Geitner said. “Would a Nazi flag be tolerated? If we lack the authority to order the removal of the flags, surely we can counter them with a welcome message of our own.”
Leslie Kern said while some see the items as heritage, the history they celebrate was short and disturbs some others.
“I was raised in the South in a racist family and I don’t like seeing a giant flag celebrating racism at the margins of my county,” Kern said. “Some people report deciding not to shop, eat, or live in Morganton because of the flags.”
She asked why the statue and flags can’t be at the history museum and the middle of town and I-40 be places where all citizens can be comfortable?
“This is a time of discussion and a cry for change. Don’t let us down,” Kern said.
Wallace Moncrief called for removing the statue, saying for years he was enthralled with the Civil War and the exploits of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“Now I see the Stars and Bars in the same light as the Nazi flag – symbols of hate and oppression,” Moncrief said. “I see now that the real and only reason the South left the Union was to protect the economics of slavery. With sadness I now know that regions of the country that are a part of my heritage made it a mission to keep Blacks in bondage through economics, political control, and terror.”
Commissioners also have received a petition with more than 600 signatures asking the county to remove the statue. The Confederate soldier statue sits on county property that is leased to the city of Morganton.
Commissioner Chairman Johnnie Carswell said the following day after the meeting that he was told a petition to keep the statue where it is will be submitted to the board. As of Friday, that petition had not been received, according to officials.
Carswell said he appreciates the comments made during the meeting but at this time, there is not a plan to consider any of the proposals until the board reads both sides’ petitions.
He said they will take a look at those who signed the petitions to see where they’re from and whether they’re residents of the county.
In other business, commissioners:
» Approved a rezoning request from Brent Perkins, who owns Trumade Holdings, for an 0.88 portion of 2.02 acres at 3495 NC 18 South, Morganton. The property’s zoning will change from Residential Three (R-3) to the General Business (G-B). The property is home to TruLock Storage Solutions and Perkins plans to construct one more storage building on the property.
» Approved a resolution supporting a request from Lake James Marina that a No Wake Zone around the property be expanded. The request is due to unregulated speed of watercraft and resulting wave action in the area that is not covered under the current No Wake Zone. The owners of the marina have agreed to pay for the buoys, chain and anchors needed, according to county officials. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission will decide on final approval of the wake zone.
» Approved a bid award for a water tank to Phoenix Fabricators for $1,578,059 and a bid to construct a pump station to Locke-Lane Construction for $462,273.22 at Burke Business Park. Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development Inc., said the total projected cost of construction, design and technical work is $2,322,116.36, which includes a contingency of $104,240. The county received a $1.29 million grant from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, which requires a 25 percent local match. The tank holds 500,000 gallons. Wood said the tank and pump station are necessary for fire suppression at the business park.
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