County, historian split on next steps
For almost two years, historian Tony Way has petitioned county commissioners, asking for a vote on the proposed monument to honor the area’s black Confederate soldiers. Way went before commissioners again during their Tuesday, Jan. 17 meeting, speaking during public comments to ask for a decision on the monument.
“I’m not looking for anything out of the county other than their permission,” Way told UCW. “I’m not looking for money. All I’m asking for is their ok to put the monument at the old courthouse.”
The proposal calls for a four foot square granite marker in the brick sidewalk before the current Confederate monument, located at the Old Courthouse in Monroe. The names of the ten black veterans would be listed on the plaque, with the words “absent of their basic rights, but faithful to their homeland” included. Way said private donations would pay for the monument, which he feels is an important part of the county’s history.
“It started out to me as just a unique part of history that nobody talked about, that I thought needed to be out in the open,” Way said. “Now it’s changed, because I’ve met family members of some of these men. I want it to happen because of them, to give them pride and recognition for what their ancestors did.”
After Way’s initial presentation to commissioners in May 2010, the county sent the proposal to its Historic Preservation Commission for a recommendation. The commission met in September of that year and its recommendation was passed to Way in a letter from then-interim assistant county manager Wes Baker Jan. 24, 2011.
“The Historic Preservation Commission believes that a monument on the Courthouse grounds is not the preferred location to display the names of the ten Confederate Pensioners of Color as no other monuments list the names of soldiers who fought, but who did not die, in battle,” Baker wrote. “These ten men, in fact, lived many decades after the War was over.”
Baker went on to say the Historic Preservation Commission has recommended that no new memorials or monuments be placed on the Historic Courthouse grounds, aside from any that would recognize the dead from a future national conflict.
Instead, Baker wrote, the commission suggested that the best way to memorialize these ten soldiers would be in a room dedicated to the Civil War, in a future museum planned someday for the historic courthouse.
Union County Public Information Director Brett Vines told Union County Weekly that nothing had changed in the monument’s current status with the county since that letter was written last year.
Highlighting the county’s current financial struggles, Way questioned whether the planned museum would ever be built. Also, the letter about the monument came from the Historic Preservation Commission, not county commissioners, who had originally asked for a recommendation, for or against the proposal. Rather than staying in limbo, Way said he just wanted commissioners to vote on the proposal, so he had a definite answer on the subject.
He also questioned why Union County couldn’t honor the ten Confederate veterans, when other groups from across the state plan to do so Feb. 18, with a dedication service at the grave of Aaron Perry. One of the ten black Confederate soldiers from Union County, Perry’s grave had gone unmarked for 80 years, before being rediscovered. Now a headstone marks the spot and a Confederate Cross of Honor will be placed at the grave during the ceremony, which will be held in the graveyard of the Philadelphia Baptist Church in Monroe.
Speaking to county commissioners Jan. 17, Way told the story of a former slave, freed during the beginning of the Civil War. His former master had given him a gold watch, Way said and let him leave.
When the war broke out, the slave was walking down the road and a Union officer passed him on a horse, inquiring what he had of value. The former slave showed the man his watch, Way said, only to be told he wasn’t worthy of a watch like that and so the Union soldier kept the watch.
“We have a chance to be, as a county, the people who give a gift or we can be the ones who take it away,” Way