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Residents call for City Council to address Fame statue

SALISBURY — The City Council quickly approved all items on Tuesday’s agenda, moving into an early evening public-comment period centered around the Fame statue.

Several residents expressed concern and others offered suggestions about how the city should handle the controversy over the Confederate statue that was vandalized last month.

Gary Freeze, a history professor at Catawba College, spoke for nine minutes — using other people’s time — about ownership of the property it sits on, state law, and a proposal to add monuments and signage to the block at West Innes and Church streets.

“It is my proposal to reconcile our community,” Freeze said. “We have an opportunity to do what the (state) Historical Commission recommended and that is embellish and expand. It’s very clearly that you couldn’t move the monument, which we cannot do under the state law. Despite it’s ambivalence, you cannot at the moment. You can tell the story a different way, and if you are a partner for the entire block of Innes Street.”

Under state law, a historic monument cannot be moved unless it is to a place of equal prominence. At last month’s N.C. Historical Commission meeting, members recommended that communities add plaques to describe the history of a monument to address the issues of slavery and the Civil War and also erect monuments to prominent African-Americans.

Freeze suggested putting up monuments of soldiers crossing swords, farmers with plowshares, a lion, lambs, children and Hope, the mother of Fame.

“We don’t touch the monument,” Freeze said. “We don’t plaque it over. But anyone who wants to walk by or drive by will see a story that Salisbury can tell and no one in North Carolina will dare to tell.”

Anthony Smith, a pastor, asked that the city relocate Fame because of public safety.

“With the increased KKK activity in Rowan County in our neighborhoods and the vandalism of Fame itself as well as several communicated threats of violence against the black community and even our own mayor by many pro-Confederacy advocates along with increased opposition and counter-opposition locally and nationally against Confederate monuments in places like Durham, Chapel Hill and even Salisbury, we request — I request and many others request — that the city relocate Fame from the very visible center of our city,” Smith said.

Isaac Heggins, the husband of Mayor Al Heggins, spoke about the lack of conversation with black residents about the Confederate statue.

“Nobody in Salisbury ever asked me what I thought about that statue or how I felt about it,” Heggins said. “Don’t you think that’s not right? People will say, ‘Why’s it coming up now? It’s not like you’ve had a problem before.’ How do you know? You’ve never asked any black people. This is what you call privilege.”

At the conclusion of a closed session, the mayor asked City Attorney Graham Corriher to clarify the difference between a deed and an easement and how that would affect the property where the statue stands. Corriher explained that a deed is a transfer of ownership and an easement is giving the right to use the property.

The city determined last year that Fame does sit on public property. Because Innes Street is a state-maintained road, the state Department of Transportation would be involved in deciding how to use of the median.

The statue itself is owned by the Hoke Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was given an easement to erect the statue in the median.

Another monument was brought up by Ronnie Smith. He said he hopes a Rowan County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall will unite the community.

“I’m going to talk about a monument,” Smith said. “I’m going to talk about a monument that will unite our community and bring everybody together.”

In other business:

• The City Council unanimously approves the sale of two parcels. One is in the 200 block of West Henderson Street and is covered by floodplains. The other is at 110 N. Main St. Pete Bogle made the offer in hopes of transforming the bottom floor into a coffee shop that would provide jobs to the special-needs community.

• Council members also repealed the city’s animal control ordinance and replaced it with Rowan County’s recently revised ordinance.

• The council received an update on the Remedial Action Program and heard about landlord training planned for Sept 26.

• The council went into closed session but did not take any action at the end of the meeting.

The next City Council meeting will be moved from Sept. 18 to Sept. 17 because of Yom Kippur.

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