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Sat May 25, 2024, 01:22 PM May 25

N.C. residents sue to remove monument dedicated to 'our faithful slaves' [View all]

Tyrrell County residents are pushing to remove a confederate monument that overlooks a North Carolina courthouse and includes a dedication to “our faithful slaves.”



A statue of a Confederate soldier outside the Tyrrell County Courthouse in Columbia, N.C., rests on a base featuring a bust of Robert E. Lee and the inscription: “IN APPRECIATION OF OUR FAITHFUL SLAVES.” (Ian Mance)

A group representing Black residents in a small North Carolina county has filed a federal lawsuit against local officials demanding that a 122-year-old monument outside a courthouse that honors “faithful slaves” be removed. Since 1902, a 23-foot-tall statue of a Confederate soldier has stood outside the Tyrrell County Courthouse in Columbia, N.C. The zinc statue rests on a base featuring a bust of Robert E. Lee and the inscription: “IN APPRECIATION OF OUR FAITHFUL SLAVES.” For decades, the statue and its reference to slavery have sparked protests, presentations, billboards and letters to newspaper editors advocating for the monument to be taken down. But the Confederate monument remains outside the courthouse, pushing frustrated residents to turn to litigation as their last resort, according to an attorney representing them.

On Tuesday, the civic group Concerned Citizens of Tyrrell County and several of its members filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in eastern North Carolina against the county’s board of commissioners, claiming the Confederate monument constitutes racially discriminatory government speech that violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. “This is the only place in America where you can go to a courthouse and see a public expression in support of the institution of slavery,” Joyce Sykes Fitch, a plaintiff and secretary of Concerned Citizens of Tyrrell County, said in a news release. “It’s past time for it to come down.” Tyrrell County commissioners did not respond to The Washington Post’s requests for comment.

The monument was unveiled to a crowd of some 3,000 people in 1902, nearly 40 years after the end of the Civil War. The event brought together politicians, officials and Confederate veterans, and was described by newspapers at the time as the “most momentous occasion ever celebrated in the county of Tyrrell,” the suit states. That day, Thomas Gregory Skinner, a U.S. congressman and veteran of the Confederate army, gave a dedication speech marked by a “masterly defense of the cause of the South,” according the University of North Carolina’s online inventory of the state’s monuments, shrines, and commemorative public art. Though the monument is one of hundreds still dotting American towns, it’s notable for being “one of only four built before 1904 in public/civic spaces,” according to the online inventory. Most other Confederate monuments built around that time were erected in cemeteries.

The Columbia statue is also “the only monument in the country that is on public land and expressing a textually explicit racist message,” said Jaelyn Miller, an attorney with Emancipate NC, a Durham-based civil rights organization that’s representing the plaintiffs. “It is very unique in that sense, and that’s what makes it more egregious than your typical Confederate monument.” The reference to “our faithful slaves” feels particularly personal to many of Tyrrell County’s Black residents, who trace their roots to ancestors who lived in the area before the Civil War, Miller said. “When you have a message in front of the courthouse where they have to go vote or go for many things, you’re essentially saying to them — and everyone in this county — ‘Hey, your ancestors actually prefer to be slaves. And we view you as subservient, faithful slaves.’”


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