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Judge rules Confederate monument in Alamance can stay; NAACP will appeal

The confederate-era monument in downtown Graham now has a fence surrounding its base.
Leoneda Inge
/
WUNC
The confederate-era monument in downtown Graham now has a fence surrounding its base.

A 30-foot statue of a Confederate soldier will continue to stand in front of the Alamance County courthouse in downtown Graham, after a judge ruled that state law prohibits the removal of the monument.

The state chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit last year to have it removed, but Alamance County leaders want it to stay.

"This was an issue of law not fact, such that there really wasn’t a need for a trial," said Alamance head attorney Rik Stevens. "We’re glad that the court saw it our way."

The statue was dedicated in 1914, and has been the subject of protests for years in downtown Graham, with demonstrators arguing the monument and others like it across North Carolina are inextricably tied to racism and white supremacy.

The state NAACP was represented by attorneys from Wilmer-Hale out of Washington, D.C. They said the unique history of this monument makes the application of the North Carolina Monuments Law to it, unconstitutional.

Jason deBruyn/WUNC

"We think, with all due respect, the judge made some mistakes in his ruling," said Ron Machen, a partner with Wilmer-Hale and the lead trial attorney in NAACP v. Alamance County. "We think any law, which the judge relied on, the Monuments Law in North Carolina that allows a symbol of race and oppression, and divisiveness and racism to remain outside the county owned courthouse is unconstitutional under the North Carolina constitution."

Still, Superior Court Judge Forrest Bridges found for the defendants in their summary judgment motion, meaning the case can not proceed.

He sided with the defendant’s claim that the monument is protected by North Carolina law because it commemorates local Confederate soldiers’ military service in the Civil War. And that law states a monument, memorial or work of art cannot be removed, relocated or altered in any way without the approval of the N.C. Historical Commission. And there are limitations listed for objects of remembrance.

Attorneys representing the NAACP say they will appeal the judge’s decision — adding at least 20 similar monuments have come down across the state since that controversial law was enacted.

Indeed, despite that law, according to data tracked by WUNC, at least 24 Confederate monuments were removed in North Carolina in the year following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. More recently, the mayor of Enfield — Mondale Robinson — took it upon himself to remove the town's Confederate monument and received threats after doing so.

After protests around the Graham Confederate monument in 2020, Alamance County installed an 8-foot fence around it in April 2021.

Copyright 2022 North Carolina Public Radio. To see more, visit North Carolina Public Radio.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She explores modern and historical constructs to tell stories of poverty and wealth, health and food culture, education and racial identity. Leoneda is also co-host of the podcast Tested, allowing for even more in-depth storytelling on those topics.