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Salisbury mayor open to holding public hearing on ‘Fame’

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Mayor Al Heggins says she supports holding a public hearing about the “Fame” monument downtown if other council members also agree to it. 

Following an incident Wednesday where an unknown person vandalized the monument to local Confederate soldiers with yellow paint, the Salisbury-Rowan NAACP and Women for Community Justice called on the City Council to have a discussion about removing the Confederate monument “Fame” from its downtown location. In an email to City Council members, the local NAACP demanded a public hearing, noting that it was the second time the monument had been defaced in the previous seven months.

Salisbury Indivisible, a grassroots activist organization, has called on the city numerous times to relocate the statue.

Mayor Al Heggins responded in an email to Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Gemale Black, who requested a public hearing at the next City Council meeting. While Heggins expressed support for a public hearing, the mayor said she would rather have a discussion with leaders of the NAACP; the local chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns the property where “Fame” stands, and its North Carolina division; Salisbury Indivisible; Rowan Museum; Women for Community Justice; and the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Black said he thinks Heggins has good intentions but discussion about removing the statue is what’s needed for public safety.

“It is clear that across the country, the temperature of Confederate statues is at an all-time high. And the end result in most cases is that they have been removed for what grounds we are requesting, which is for the safety of all citizens,” Black said. “It is evident, given the responses on this issue, that both sides have very heated and vested interests in what they believe.” 

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.

Mayor Pro Tem David Post said he believes a document signed by a former mayor attesting to action taken at a meeting 19 years earlier to be suspect. However, Post said, the city has received a legal opinion that the easement is valid and that the city lacks any control over the land on which “Fame” sits.

On May 10, 1909, the monument was dedicated to the 2,500 Rowan County soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.

Heggins said getting the leaders of the various organizations together would allow them “to see each other as people.”

In Women for Community Justice’s news release calling for a discussion about the monument, signed by chairwomen Regina Dancy and Renee Wimbish, the group said “Fame” casts a shadow on the community and has become a public safety issue.

“Should deliberations lead to actions that put relics of the past in historic museums and challenge state law that limits such action, know that the people have spoken and have been heard,”  the group said. “Further, we call upon the city of Salisbury to support local museums in telling the history of all of its residents and to celebrate the fullness of history, both bitter and sweet, of our home in these United States of America.”

Black said that, ultimately, removing “Fame” is what’s best for the city.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy has not responded to requests for comment about the matter.

If a public hearing was held following the recent vandalism, it would not be the first time the Salisbury City Council has welcomed a crowd to debate the monument. In July 2015, for example, the council saw a standing room-only crowd produce 42 speakers about Salisbury’s monument. That occurred roughly one month after a church shooting in Charleston, S.C, in which the shooter, a white supremacist, posted photos posing with the Confederate battle flag.

Contact reporter Liz Moomey at 704-797-4222.

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