Gaston County asks state to let voters decide fate of Confederate statue

Gaston County asks state to let voters decide fate of Confederate statue

GASTONIA, N.C. — Gaston County commissioners decided Tuesday night to ask the state to allow voters to decide the future of a Confederate statue, after lively debates and protests.

That decision has upset a lot of people.

The monument outside the Gaston County Courthouse has been the subject of protests over the past several weeks. It was erected over 100 years ago as a gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

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Protesters have said that it sends the wrong message and promotes white supremacy based on a speech given the day the statue was dedicated. They said it represents soldiers who fought for slavery and the oppression of black people.

“They answered the call at the time, but now with the benefit of hindsight we can see that they were not fighting for a just cause,” said Colin Hoggard who supports the statue’s removal.

After three meetings, the “Council of Understanding,” which is a group of residents appointed by commissioners, voted 7-5 to relocate the statue.

The Gaston County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night heard an overview of the council’s recommendation. They also heard from residents, including one man who told Channel 9 that he is a direct descendant of a Confederate soldier and claims the statue is not a symbol of racism.

“I’m offended everyday by different things but it doesn’t mean that I want them removed from society because I’m offended. We can easily say that we are offended by things,” said Charles Rosenberry who opposes the removal.

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Commissioner Chad Brown told Channel 9 he believes the public should decide what to do with the statue. He supports asking state lawmakers to put that question to the people on a ballot.

“It’s either going to be 7 men who come out and make that decision, or the people of Gaston,” Brown said.

County who come out and make that decision.”

Brown said it’s the best way to settle the ongoing dispute between people on both sides. At this point, it’s unclear if lawmakers would agree to that, and if they did agree, it’s unclear how early that question could end up on a ballot.

One lawmaker said ballots for November have to be prepared by the first week in September and lawmakers don’t go back into session until September.

Brown said that while he doesn’t know the likelihood of the decision going to voters, he is sure that there will be a decision on the matter.

“I don’t know what it is, but if it were to come back -- if they said we couldn’t do it -- we’d end up voting as a commission. If they can, then everyone in Gaston County has a voice,” he said.

Council of Understanding member James Muhammad is not happy about the thought of putting the question on the ballot.

“I’m definitely upset over it. It’s not what should have happened,” he said. “They should have voted last night to relocate the statue.”

And he isn’t the only one.

“They need to make a decision -- yes or no -- and move on,” resident Heather Mitchell said.

Commissioner Ronnie Worley said he also believes commissioners should have voted on the committee’s recommendation on Tuesday. He said he plans to ask them to vote at the commission’s last meeting in August.