WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking the removal of a Confederate monument which stands in front of a county courthouse where protests have been staged for several years and which intensified last year after the death of George Floyd.
Filed in Alamance County, the lawsuit names members of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners as defendants. Commission Chairman John Paisley didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment Tuesday.
“Specifically, the monument exalts the causes of slavery, secession, and white supremacy. It causes particular pain to Black residents. And it wastes taxpayer dollars on security costs that will be unnecessary once the statue topped by an armed Confederate soldier is gone," the North Carolina NAACP said in a news release. "The monument stands illegally because the state constitution outlaws government action that denies equal protection, exhibits racial discrimination, and squanders public money."
The lawsuit alleges that county officials have refused to remove the monument from in front of the Alamance County Courthouse in Graham, which is 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Raleigh.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, former NAACP state chapter president, said the Alamance County monument and many others across the South were erected in the early 20th century — not in the aftermath of the Civil War — amid a time of lynchings of African Americans, as well as the formation of coalitions like the NAACP to combat racism.
"These monuments represent a form of political, social, and cultural intimidation and sanction by the county commissioner, city council, and state legislature of that time to harass Black and white people who were committed to equal justice under the law for all people,” Barber said.
According to the lawsuit, Alamance County was a center for Black political participation at the end of the Civil War. Among those participating was Wyatt Outlaw, a native of the county and an escaped slave who fought in the Union Army. According to a database of lynchings kept by the University of North Carolina, Outlaw was lynched on Feb. 26, 1870, by members of the Ku Klux Klan after he was dragged from his home. The men charged with his murder were freed in 1873.
The Confederate monument was erected in 1914 on courthouse grounds across from the site where Outlaw was hanged, the lawsuit says, adding that the county accepted the monument as a gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The lawsuit cites a newspaper account of the dedication ceremony, in which local Ku Klux Klan leader Jacob A. Long said the purpose of the monument was “to recall the achievements of the great and good of our own race and blood ...”
The lawsuit also cites a letter from Alamance County Manager Bryan Hagood, who wrote last June that the monument posed a life-or-death threat to public safety because of heightened emotions on both sides of the issue.
“We are currently relying on our Sheriff's Office to protect the Confederate memorial as it is County property," Hagood said. "I believe that it will come to a point where the Deputies will have to choose to use potentially deadly force in the course of doing so.”
Hagood also wrote that he advised county commissioners that the monument needs to be relocated.
Hundreds protested in July near the monument, marching 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Burlington into downtown Graham, where they heard speeches calling for an end to racial oppression.
The monument has been the target of protests for several years, and calls to bring it down have intensified since the May 2020 police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis sparked national demonstrations. Numerous other Confederate monuments across the South have been toppled or relocated in recent years.