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LUMBERTON — “My question to you is how can we move as a county, move in the direction of equality, which is the only way that we can bring unity in Robeson County and we still idolize the dark history that has caused so much pain and division by allowing this statue to still stand at the people’s house?”

Those were the words spoken by the Rev. Tyrone Watson Sr., president of the Unified Robeson NAACP Branch, to Robeson County Commissioners during the public comments section of a regular commissioner board meeting on Monday. Watson was speaking of the Confederate statue at the entrance of the Robeson County Courthouse.

The monument, a tall marble obelisk with a soldier at its peak, has remained before the courthouse since it’s unveiling on May 10, 1907.

The statue received applause of local residents and Confederate veterans, according to an article in The Robesonian published after the unveiling. It was vandalized in 2017, but cleaned shortly thereafter.

Watson said the local NAACP group is not asking for the statue to be destroyed, but for it to be relocated.

“It is evident that this statue is a bad reflection on Robeson County and what Robeson County should be and that is a home where all men regardless of their nationality or their race should be treated equally,” he said.

“In no way are we trying to remove the history that the statue represents it’s just that we do not believe that what it represents should be glorified when to some it may bring honor and to others it may bring humiliation,” Watson added.

More than 10 people stood when Watson asked how many audience members supported the idea to relocate the statue.

The Rev. Leslie Sessoms also spoke in favor of relocating the statue.

“It is my heritage,” she said. “My roots go all the way back to the Revolutionary War.”

Sessoms said her great-great-grandfather Gilbert P. Higley fought in the Civil War and was a Confederate soldier. He was part of the “Immortal 600,” which comprised soldiers imprisoned by the Union Army.

“This doesn’t come easy for me tonight to stand before you and say I recognize the need for this to happen,” she said.

“… I believe we need healing in this county and I believe the only way we can move forward and have healing is — is to recognize generational trauma and to acknowledge it, not to ignore it, but to deal with it,” she added.

Steve Taylor’s great-great-great grandfather was a Confederate soldier who died in the war. He also said that a relative had owned slaves.

“It was a heinous system and the monument that sits out front is a monument to that system that was held in place through violence, violation and horror,” he said.

“We should remove that statue. It is a — it is a remembrance of a time that the worst of us came out and I say that as a direct descendant of those who perpetrated that. It gives me no pleasure to say that but it is the truth,” Taylor said.

Wixie Stephens, chair of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, thanked members of the public for their comments.

“I want to thank each and every one of you on behalf of this board,” she said. “I want to thank all of you for your passionate testimony and we encourage you and we want to assure you that we will take it all into advisement.”

No action on the matter was taken.

Commissioner Pauline Campbell, who is an African American, told The Robesonian after the meeting the matter is not “a black or white thing,” but “it’s a citizens of the county of Robeson thing.”

“I feel like that if the citizens of Robeson County want the statue removed, the county should move forward,” she said.

Conversely, Commissioners Tom Taylor and David Edge stood by their opinions previously shared with The Robesonian in 2017.

“I don’t see where it’s hurting anything,” Commissioner Taylor said.

He also spoke of a state statute that protects such monuments.

“My opinion hasn’t changed,” said Edge, who joined the meeting by phone.


In other business, Commissioners also approved the addition of the Juneteenth holiday for county employees.

Juneteenth, which takes place on June 19, became a federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed it into law in June 2021. The holiday celebrates the end of slavery in America. County employees will now have a paid holiday on that date.

Carol Richardson, a community activist and Robeson County resident, said she was excited about the holiday’s approval.

She requested the presence and financial support of county commissioners for a Lumberton Juneteenth Celebration.

The four-day celebration begins June 16 and ends June 19, she said.

Other matters

Commissioner Campbell told commissioners that she had received phone calls from residents who had requested that an all-way stop be placed on Turkey Branch Road and N.C. 41. Campbell told The Robesonian after the meeting that concerns centered around car accidents in the area.

Commissioner Judy Sampson said a meeting will take place at the Union Chapel Community Building on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. and the Lumbee Tribal chairman is to attend the meeting.

During the meeting, Commissioner Faline Dial also announced that a litter cleanup effort called Operation Spring Cleaning will take place March 19.

Also on Monday, commissioners approved:

— A special permit request from Brenda Locklear, of Rennert, to allow for the establishment of a family cemetery in a Residential Agricultural District located on Liberty Park Road

— A special permit request from James Chavis, of Philadelphus, to allow for the establishment of an auto mechanic and body shop in a Residential Agricultural District located on Lewis McNeill Road

— A resolution to accept a $2,000 bid plus the cost of advertising for real property on N.C. 130 near Fairmont

— A resolution to advertise bids for surplus property at $3,600 for parcels located on Rennert Road, at Morgan J Road and Second Street, and Pine Street

— Giving Southeastern Family Violence Center $325,000 to help it expedite shelter renovations as it awaits grant funding

— Increasing the rental rate for Robeson County Housing Authority community rooms from $100 to $200 to offset costs of inflation and cleaning measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19

The next board of commissioners meeting will take place at 9 a.m. on March 7.


This content was originally published here.

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