DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners held public hearings this week to discuss upcoming construction projects, but it was another matter that was brought up during the regular open forum.
Ken Badgett, a Dobson resident, wants to use the work on the historic courthouse as a segue into altering and/or removing certain war memorials on the courthouse grounds.
This November marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and there are plans for a national commemoration, Badgett told the county board.
“With the upcoming expenditure of one-million-plus dollars to continue the renovation of the former courthouse, it would seem to be an appropriate time to review the current memorial landscape surrounding the building and to create a plan to deal with current issues as well as the potential for the placement of new monuments and markers,” Badgett read from a written statement.
He considers the most urgent issue to be the World War I memorial, dedicated in 1939, because of racial division.
“The names on the monument were and are listed and inscribed by racial category,” he said. “The members of the ‘Colored Army’ are listed separately, thus making our World War I memorial a segregated war memorial. This memorial should be modified or replaced with an identical memorial that does not distinguish between ‘colored’ and white military service.”
He then said, “Also, the memorial to soldiers who died in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts has a quotation on it attributed to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America. This monument was dedicated in 1985. The individuals on this memorial died in service to the United States of America, not to the ill-fated slaveholding republic. This quotation should be removed.”
He later noted that the quote attributed to Jefferson Davis says, “We have entered upon the career of independence and it must be inflexibly pursued.”
This came from Davis’ first inaugural address to the Confederate Congress and refers to fighting against the United States.
“In addition,” Badgett said, “the existence of the monument ‘In Memory of the Confederate Soldiers of Surry County,’ placed on the former courthouse square by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 2000, needs to be reevaluated. With online resources, including the advent of large databases of scanned and easily searchable historical newspapers, anyone can literally match the names of local Confederate soldiers to brazenly racist proclamations that they made before the Civil War began in April 1861.”
He specifically mentioned eight men by name who attended a meeting at the county courthouse in 1960 to seceding from the Union, according to the published volume “Surry County Soldiers in the Civil War.”
These same men, he said, “proclaimed in a resolution published in The Western Sentinel on January 11, 1861, page three, that they were opposed to the success ‘of a fanatical, insane and sectional party of negro worshippers at the North….[that would] shortly place the federal government in the hands of those who openly declare the white and black race equal, which policy so revolting to common sense, and decency[,] must result in our political destruction.’”
“Why can’t we have a memorial to the hundreds of slaves who were forced to live and work in this county before 1865?” he asked. “We have a memorial for some of their owners and masters and tormentors.”
Finally, only two women are memorialized on the lawn around the old courthouse: Josie Ashby, an Army nurse, on the World War I Memorial; and Tabitha Holton, the first woman licensed to practice law in North Carolina and eighth woman with such a license in the United States. … Surry County is nearly 250 years old and only two women are memorialized on our old public square. Thousands of men are memorialized, only two women.”
Whenever someone speaks before the county board, the commissioners explain that they do not wish to make decisions on the same night an issue is brought up. They like to have time to think matters over and speak to constituents.
During a break in the board meeting, Chairman Eddie Harris went over to Badgett to thank him for coming out and sharing his thoughts.
A couple of days later, Harris would say that there didn’t seem to be much traction among the board members to alter or remove any historical markers from the courthouse property.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.