Protesters meet with commissioners over Gaston County Confederate statue

GASTONIA, N.C. — Dozens of people protested outside of the Gaston County courthouse Tuesday night over a Confederate monument during a commissioners meeting.

The protest was organized by the Coalition of Progressive Groups. Members of the group met with Channel 9′s Ken Lemon near the foot of the statue.

They said the three-story high monument is a salute to supporters of slavery and they want it moved from the front of the courthouse where it has stood for more than 100 years.

“There is no reason for it to be here,” Kimberly Hallas with Gaston Progressive United said.

Later, authorities formed a barrier between those who opposed the statue and those who support it.

Gaston County Commissioner Ronnie Worley also wants it removed. He said the statue spreads the wrong message.

“There should be a monument there honoring veterans, not only Confederate soldiers, Worley said. “This monument has sat on Gaston County’s mantel long enough.”

He said he reached that decision after a discussion with a black resident who told Worley he didn't feel like he would be treated fairly in court where the monument stands.

It represents soldiers who fought for slavery and oppression of black people.

"His words have stuck with me," Worley said.

Worley and organizers of the protest said they don’t want the monument destroyed. They believe the statue, which has been there since 1912, should be sent to a museum or cemetery.

"I think now is the right opportunity," Worley said.

He asked Scottie Reid to join a committee of veterans to help transition the monument.

Reid said the statue was in front of the old courthouse when he returned from deployment in the first Gulf War.

"I just felt disrespectful, as a citizen, as a veteran and just as a human being," Reid said.

He said he comes from a family of veterans who are pleased with Worley's plan.

But some are not.

Commissioner Chad Brown said it is history. He said Confederate monuments teach children about their community.

“I think it should stay right where it is,” he said. “We can’t erase it. We can’t cleanse it. We can’t scrub it away.”

Brown said the Confederate statue offsets the Martin Luther King monument erected in 2004 and together they show how the community changed over time.

[Channel 9 presents ‘Talking about race’]

Resident Karen Faile proudly flies the Confederate flag at her Mount Holly home.

“It’s history,” Faile said.

She said all Confederate statues should remain where they are.

There are 42 statues in front of courthouses across the state.

"We don't put enough pride and everything for our children," Faile said.

The commander of the local Sons of the Confederate Veterans said last week that he will oppose any plans to move the monument.

Worley said because the monument was a gift to the county and not erected by the state, the county should be able to decide whether it stays of goes.

He believes he can rally the votes of the board of commissioners and he asked the county manager and attorney to work with him in planning the next steps.

A petition with almost 1500 signatures asking for the monument to be removed has already been sent to commissioners.

Tuesday, protesters plan to gather before the meeting and then, walk up to the listening session with Gaston County commissioners to tell them they want it removed.

“We will not stop,” said Ivy Barnes with PUSH Gastonia.