LUMBERTON — It’s time the Robeson County Board of Commissioners takes a stand on the issue of whether or not a statue of a Confederate soldier should be removed from its place in front of the Robeson County Courthouse, Jerry Stephens told his fellow commissioners Monday.
“Sometime we are going to have a dialogue about how we feel about that statue,” said Stephens, one of two blacks serving on the eight-member board. “I don’t really pay attention to it very much. I often walk by it without even noticing it. But there is a lot of the public who has an opinion.”
Stephens’ comments were met with silence.
The Robeson County Confederate monument, a tall obelisk with a soldier at its peak, has stood before the courthouse since it was unveiled on May 10, 1907. For more than 110 years the monument has stood mostly unchallenged until the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in Durham, where a statue honoring Confederate soldiers was toppled recently by protesters.
Earlier this month, Gov. Roy Cooper called for the removal from state property of all Confederate statues and monuments. A law passed by the state General Assembly in 2016 prohibits removal of any Confederate statues and monuments from state property without General Assembly approval.
Stephens said he intends to hold a public forum in his district to get constituents’ opinions concerning the issue.
The commissioners made no comments concerning Stephens remarks during the meeting, but last week a couple spoke briefly with The Robesonian.
Board Chairman Tom Taylor said the statue is part of history and he does not want it to come down.
“I’m totally against taking that monument down,” Commissioner David Edge said.
Taylor and Edge are both white.
Commissioner Raymond Cummings, an American Indian, said he hasn’t heard anyone talking about the statue at the courthouse.
“There are good arguments on both sides,” he said. “I’m reserving my comments until a later time.”
In other business, the commissioners were updated by Jan Maynor, the former executive director of the Lumber River Council of Governments, on the Community Development Block Grant that focuses on disaster recovery. The county probably will get about $69 million to assist in Hurricane Matthew disaster recovery efforts, Maynor said.
The application the county is submitting includes projects targeting neighborhood services needs, infrastructure and housing.
Just before Maynor’s presentation, Jimmy Gilchrist, chairman of the Robeson County chapter of the Black Caucus, called on the commissioners to help see that available recovery assistance funds coming into the county get to the people who need them.
” I contend that the people who need the money don’t receive,” he said. “… I also contend that nobody should need to borrow money to replace their home when the state and federal governments are supplying so much money.”
The commissioners on Monday also agreed to provide $2,000 from the county’s Contingency Fund to support the county’s first 911 Remembrance Walk. The 3.43-mile walk in remembrance of the 343 first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists toppled the World Trade Center in New York, is scheduled for Sept. 9 at Luther Britt Park.
Board members were updated on event plans by Robeson County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Chavis. Events for the day include fire, rescue and police demonstrations, an antique fire truck show, activities for young people, displays of fire, rescue and police vehicles, and a firefighters’s competition. Activities will start at 8:30 a.m.
The state now is recognizing Sept. 11 as First Responders Day.
In other business, the commissioners:
— Approved a request from Sheriff Ken Sealey for $6,860 to buy transport cages to be installed in new Sheriff’s Office cars.
— Passed a resolution allowing Capt. Reggle Strickland, of the Sheriff’s Office, to keep his firearm when he retires Aug. 31.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.