It was standing room only during the Winston-Salem city council room on Tuesday evening.
About a dozen community members — many associated with the “Get Hate Out of Winston-Salem” movement which supports the removal of the downtown Confederate statue — urged council members to take additional steps to promote equity in the city.
The monument has been ordered by both the city and the owner, to be removed by the Daughters of the Confederacy by Jan. 31.
Aidan McCarthy, a student from Reagan High School, spoke about the importance of the statue’s removal, but said there are other issues that the city needs to address.
“When the statue is no longer standing, who will stand for the residents of this town?” McCarthy asked. “To me and most people in this town, the statue is just the tip of the iceberg.”
McCarthy and others referenced the increasing number of high-rent apartments being built downtown and the number of ways in which black and brown residents continue to struggle in society. One speaker half-jokingly suggested breaking apart the statue and letting black artists use the remains to create their own art.
Tina Trutanich, a local organizer, urged members to focus their efforts on problems like food insecurity, poverty and providing better transportation.
“You work for us,” Trutanich said. “We need to make sure we get what we are paying our taxes for.”
Trutanich said she waited in freezing temperatures for a bus that morning.
“Routes have been cut; the buses are not reliable,” Trutanich said. “Transportation has not assisted the lives of lower income people.”
Alexx Andersen, a graduate student at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity who prefers gender-neutral pronouns, outlined their personal experiences of growing up as a black person in the South.
They described how white supremacists burned crosses on their family’s front lawn when they were a child in rural South Carolina. When that didn’t drive their family away, they said the tormentors lynched their dad.
“We were living in an area where there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me,” Andersen said.
In 2015, after moving to Charleston, Andersen said they experienced hate and racism again. They had plans to go to Bible study one evening at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when they got a call.
“I found out that the church I loved so much,” Andersen said as they struggled to get the words out. “People were killed.”
They said the Confederate statue reminds them of the massacre in which a white gunman killed nine black parishioners at their church.
“I’m reminded that I’m a black person and my life doesn’t matter,” they said.
While 11 of the 13 speakers advocated for the removal, destruction or relocation of the Confederate monument, two speakers at the end of the meeting supported keeping the statue where it is.
Howard Snow, who wore a gray Confederate soldier cap, said he didn’t think the statue was racist.
“It’s for the soldiers that gave their lives for what they believed in,” Snow said. “It’s my family; it’s my heritage.”
Snow also helped organize an “Heirs to the Confederacy Prayer Service” at the base of Silent Sam in Chapel Hill on Dec. 16.
Wendy Hayslett, who said she was with the Virginia Task Force III%, a conservative, Confederate-monument-supporting group, said she had come from Hampton, Va., to advocate for the statue.
“I don’t celebrate slavery and hate,” said Hayslett, who wore a gray shirt with the image of Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate general, on the back. “I’m not a Nazi; I’m a Southern American and I’m proud of that.”
None of the city council members nor the mayor commented on the status of the statue during the meeting.
The city of Winston-Salem has given the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which commissioned the statue in 1905, a deadline of Jan. 31 to remove it or face legal action. Mayor Allen Joines proposed to relocate the monument to Salem Cemetery. The United Daughters responded in a Jan. 3 press release expressing “dismay” and pledging to “do everything in our power to see that it continues to remain.”