by Yustin Riopko
MONROE – Union County commissioners have been listening to community concerns about a Confederate monument in front of the old county courthouse.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing Sept. 21 to receive input from citizens about the Confederate Soldiers Monument, after which they will make a decision on whether it stays or goes.
Citizen comments during an Aug. 3 meeting prompted the discussion.
“To understand this monument, we must first understand the confederacy,” Raygan Hansley told commissioners. “There’s no doubt among reputable historians that the confederacy was established upon the premise of white supremacy and that the South fought the Civil War to preserve its slave labor.
“I want you to imagine what it’s like for me—a black woman—to walk into the courthouse and be greeted by a monument that was erected to memorialize the fight to keep our ancestors enslaved. Could I or any other person of color expect to receive justice from this place?”
Sanford Steelman submitted his own public comment to be read at the following meeting Aug. 17, advising commissioners to leave the monument where it is.
“Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them,” Steelman wrote. “Those who would remove the monument have decided that anything to do with the Confederate States of America should be excised from the history of the United States. This cannot be done. The Confederacy is a fundamental part of the history of our county, state and nation.”
Another commenter, Nathel Hailey, said he doesn’t want the monument torn down, just moved to a less prominent place.
“Even though we know it’s history,” Hailey said. “It’s history for some people, but not for all people.”
The Confederate Soldiers Monument was erected in 1910, about 45 years after the end of the Civil War.
Commissioner Stony Rushing is willing to let citizens talk, but he’ll need convincing.
“I don’t think anything I’ll hear in a public hearing will change my mind,” he said. “When I was young, we used to hear stories about some people in our class kicking over tombstones in the graveyard. They thought it was funny. I always found that to be disrespectful.”
Rushing added the monument memorializes the dead, not what they fought for, believing not all Confederate soldiers fought willingly.
Board members recognize the issue of Confederate monuments as divisive.
“There’s an old saying that you’re dang if you do and dang if you don’t,” chairman Jerry Simpson said. “This is one of those that in regards to how you feel, you’re probably not gonna win with some group or some people. But in interest of transparency and to be able to provide citizens of Union County to have a say, I certainly support the motion.”
“I think [this hearing] will further divide the community,” Rushing said. “I think we’ll have people on both sides come in and get up in arms about things. Union County’s been a lot better place to live in my lifetime, a lot less contentious racially … I think Union County’s lived up to its name. We are a union of people from all over, and again – I’m not in the business of kicking over tombstones and monuments. I’m not going to vote to kick this one over no matter what.”
The hearing will immediately follow the regularly scheduled 3 p.m. board meeting.