Mecklenburg County commissioners disagree on whether to remove from county property a memorial that includes the Confederate battle flag.
The monument between Memorial Stadium and Grady Cole Center on Kings Drive was erected in 1929 during the United Confederate Veterans’ 39th reunion and features the Confederate flag four times.
Mecklenburg Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller said he believes the memorial does not have a place on government-owned land. “I believe we need to remove any indication that the county supports that kind of hatred,” said Fuller, a Democrat.
But commissioner Pat Cotham, a Democrat, and Republican commissioners Bill James and Matthew Ridenhour said the memorial should remain.
“History isn’t pretty, and people need to remember that,” said James, who said his relatives fought for the Union in the Civil War. “They shouldn’t remember some sanitized, cookie-cutter, pretty version. They should be taught there were a lot of problems and human beings tried to solve them.”
Since last week’s Charleston church shooting, the nation is debating public display of Confederate flags after police charged Dylann Storm Roof, 21, with murder in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church, a historic black church in Charleston. A photo shows him displaying the battle flag.
In an email to commissioners, County Manager Dena Diorio said the board will discuss next month what action, if any, to take. Given the national attention over the flag’s symbolism, Diorio thought it was worth a board discussion.
She isn’t sure what commissioners are legally able to do if they want to remove the memorial, but she plans to investigate options and discuss them with the board next month. “There’s a lot of passion, I’m sure, on both sides,” she said.
Cotham said she stopped by the memorial this week and was disturbed by some language on it. An inscription lauds Confederate soldiers who “preserved the Anglo-Saxon civilization of the South and became master builders in a re-united country.”
Although she said she finds the language offensive, Cotham doesn’t think the memorial should be removed: “I don’t think we can sanitize history – we have to learn from history.”
Because the pillar is hard to find, she said, it shows that leaders over time tried to downplay it. She posted the photo on her Facebook page, which brought more than 40 comments, some of which decried the memorial and called for its removal. Others said erasing a piece of history would be a disservice.
“I might suggest putting something small next to it giving today’s attitudes about this memorial,” Cotham said. “We definitely don’t think the way they did in 1929.”
Ridenhour said the monument has a different meaning from the flag.
“I think that a monument and flying the flag on a state building or on state grounds are two different things,” he said. “You can’t wave a monument. Hate groups aren’t rallying around monuments.”
Memorials, he said, commemorate either a battle or a fallen individual or a group of individuals.
“Regardless of whether someone thinks their cause was justified or moral, they still answered the call of their state,” he said.
But Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte NAACP, said any display of the Confederate flag should be removed.
“It might be a part of some people’s history, but that flag exemplifies hatred and shame, and I think we’re better than that,” she said. “It’s a negative part of our history.”
Fuller said the flag featured on the monument has become a “symbol of intolerance and bigotry, and the county should not in any way glorify that symbol.
“We have a terrible history that, for better or worse, has come to be symbolized by that battle flag,” he said. “We can’t erase history, but we certainly shouldn’t celebrate it.”
There are at least seven Confederate memorials in the area, including four historical markers uptown.
Ridenhour expects other county monuments and markers will come into the conversation once the commissioners discuss the monument near Memorial Stadium in July.
Confederate symbols in Mecklenburg
Dan Morrill, director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, said there are several monuments and plaques in Charlotte tied to the Confederacy.
▪ Elmwood Cemetery, where Confederate soldiers are buried, has a tall monument erected in 1887.
▪ Four Confederate historical markers uptown do not feature the flag, according to city officials. Perhaps the most prominent is a plaque on South Tryon Street marking the spot where Confederate leader Jefferson Davis learned of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
▪ The Mt. Zion Confederate Monument, which includes the Confederate battle flag, is in Cornelius, Morrill said. It commemorates Confederate soldiers who died and was dedicated in 1910.
▪ Old City Hall on East Trade Street is also home to a monument, put there in 1977 by the Confederate Memorial Association of Charlotte, that honors Mecklenburg County residents who fought for the Confederacy.
Typically, the Historic Landmark Commission has the authority to approve or reject changes to landmarks in the county. Morrill said both Memorial Stadium and Elmwood Cemetery are designated landmarks, where two of the monuments are located.
In 2005, the city removed a flag pole where a Confederate flag had flown in Elmwood Cemetery, issuing a policy that only official flags of the country, state or city could fly on city-owned property.