Salisbury’s ‘Fame’ monument vandalized; city calls for civility

Published 8:21 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2019

By Shavonne Walker and Liz Moomey

SALISBURY – For the second time in less than a year, someone tossed paint onto the “Fame” monument on Wednesday in downtown Salisbury.

The vandalism — yellow paint splashed on the Confederate monument, its base and West Innes Street — was discovered early Wednesday morning. Seven months ago, around 2 a.m. Aug. 18, paint was also splashed on the monument.

No arrest has been made in the August incident. And Salisbury Police Department detectives are investigating who vandalized the monument this time. Police Capt. Greg Beam said officers will review any available surveillance video of the vandals that may have been captured. It’s not clear if police have been able to obtain any such video.

A crew with the city of Salisbury was on the scene briefly but workers said they are not responsible for removing the paint since “Fame” is on private property. The statue is owned by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Salisbury resident Clyde was one of the first to begin scrubbing off the paint, using a sponge and water. And at some point during his cleanup, he had a tense encounter with a TV photojournalist, tossing a bucket of water onto the cameraman, an African-American. Clyde later told a reporter that wasn’t intentional.

Mayor Al Heggins suggested residents take the “high road” and engage in deliberate conversation about the monument, which depicts a soldier being held up by a winged muse.

“In light of the ‘Fame’ statue being vandalized again, we as community members are faced with an important choice to make. Will we take the high road or the low road? I’m asking we make the choice to take the high road,” Heggins said about Wednesday’s incident. “Clearly, there are forces at work to set an old and unresolved disagreement about this statue on fire. I believe Salisbury residents are strong enough, smart enough and resilient enough to not fall into this nasty trap.

“It is regretful when any person or group feels the need to engage in vandalism. It’s much more productive to have deliberative discourse. Let’s use our positive energies and brain power to collaboratively address our differences of opinion regarding ‘Fame.'”

JON C. LAKEY/SALISBURY POST – ‘Fame,’ which sits in the middle of West Innes Street downtown, was vandalized with yellow paint between sundown Tuesday and sunrise Wednesday.

Heggins said City Council members have not engaged in an in-depth conversation about “Fame” since the August vandalism but have continued to receive pressure from Salisbury Indivisible, an activist group, to remove the monument.

But conversations about the matter could come soon, if the City Council acts on a call from the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP to make a decision about moving the monument. The local NAACP sent a letter to members of the city council late Wednesday evening saying that the city is again faced with the resurgence of a communal divide over the Confederate monument.

“We remind you that you were elected to protect the citizens of Salisbury as your sole priority and the threats and unsafe behavior that continues to fester around this statue are both repulsive and divisive,” stated a letter signed by Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black. “We demand that the city council hold a public hearing on the removal of the statue to a proper museum or less controversial public space.”

The monument’s history dates back to August 1908, the date on which then-Mayor A.H. Boyden said a resolution was signed designating the grassy median at the intersection of West Innes and Church streets as the site of the United Daughters of Confederacy monument. Boyden’s statement came in a 1927 document stating the resolution had been signed, but the city of Salisbury has been unable to find minutes from the meeting at which the resolution was passed.  The resolution was recorded in the Rowan County Register of Deeds Office. However, no formal deed or transfer of ownership for the property exists.

On May 10, 1909, the monument was dedicated to the 2,500 Rowan County soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. About 4,000 people attended the ceremony, including Frederic Wellington Ruckstuhl, the sculptor; Anna Morrison Jackson, the widow of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson; and 162 Confederate veterans.

The N.C. General Assembly passed a law in 2015 that restricts the ability to remove and relocate monuments. If the monument is moved, it has to go to an equally prominent location. The N.C. Historical Commission met in August to address three Confederate statues at Union Square in Raleigh and concluded the General Assembly decides when to relocate Confederate statues, a decision that set precedent statewide.

In addition to Heggins, city spokeswoman Linda McElroy released a statement on behalf of the city saying, “This act of vandalism is uniquely disturbing and does nothing more than drive a wedge between neighbors in our community.”

McElroy said the city staff was made aware of the incident involving Clyde and a member of the media.

“The city does not condone either incident that occurred overnight and this morning,” McElroy said. “Regardless of the frustrations among our residents, an already sensitive situation has become even more challenging. We call for civility during this trying time, no matter your stance.”

A call to Sue Curtis, with the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, requesting a comment about Wednesday’s incident was not returned.

Josh Bergeron / Salisbury Post – A city employee looks at the “Fame” monument in downtown Salisbury, which was vandalized between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Jake Sullivan, chief of staff for the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his organization is saddened by the vandalism and “blatant disrespect shown for American veterans.”

“No doubt this cowardly act is part of the protracted campaign of lawlessness perpetrated by those who hate us and our ancestors,” Sullivan said. “These people wish to see not only our heritage destroyed but us along with it. We hope those responsible will be held accountable, however. As activist vandals and mobs are continually allowed to break the law without consequence across our state, we have little faith that justice will be served.”

Salisbury Indivisible, the activist group that has called for removing “Fame,” also released a statement about the vandalism.

“It has become impossible to preserve the monument or protect public safety at its current location,” the group said.

Salisbury Indivisible said the city should work swiftly to remove the monument and return it to the private owner for relocation in a cemetery or museum — “where all relics of the Confederacy belong,” the statement said.

Editor Josh Bergeron contributed to this story.

Contact reporters Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4255 and Liz Moomey at 704-797-4222.