Property owner tells UDC that Confederate monument has to go

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The Confederate monument in Winston-Salem stands in front of the old Courthouse building. (photo Todd Turner)

The owner of a repurposed historic courthouse in downtown Winston-Salem have asked the United Daughters of the Confederacy to remove the Confederate monument that sits on their property.

The Richmond, Va.-based owner of the Old Forsyth Courthouse, where the Confederate statue is located in downtown Winston-Salem, has requested that the United Daughters of the Confederacy remove the statue.

Clachan Properties purchased the historic courthouse from Forsyth County in 2014 and converted it into apartments.

In a letter to representatives of the NC Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy on Tuesday, Scott Horn, a lawyer representing the owner Winston Courthouse LLC, wrote that “in order to protect the residents of the property, the owner cannot allow the statue to remain on the property. Since the United Daughters have asserted their ownership of the statue without challenge from the county, by this letter the owner is formally requesting that the United Daughters make the necessary arrangement to move the statue.”

According to the most recent document on file with the NC Secretary of State, Winston Courthouse LLC is controlled by Herbert R. Coleman III, the cofounder and CEO of Richmond-based Clachan Properties. Clachan Properties handles marketing and leasing for the 50 West Fourth apartments.

The city of Winston-Salem has given the United Daughters of the Confederacy a deadline of Jan. 31 to remove the statue or face legal action, while proposing 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.” Sara Neel Powell, the new president of the NC Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy could not be reached for response to the property owner’s request.

Mayor Allen Joines said the city hasn’t received any additional communication from the Daughters since Jan. 3.

The letter from Horn on behalf of the owners echoes the city’s request that the United Daughters remove the monument by Jan. 31.

The monument has attracted dueling protests scheduled for Jan. 13. A group of residents supporting removal of the statue is calling for people “to stand against hate and bigotry.” The Facebook event for “Get Hate Out of Winston-Salem” currently indicated on Wednesday that more than 100 people planned to attend. A pro-monument group called Heirs to the Confederacy indicate they plan “to pray and place flowers” at the Confederate monument in Winston-Salem despite a request from the United Daughters to refrain from protesting.

The Heirs to the Confederacy event is organized by Nancy Rushton, a South Carolina resident, and Lance Spivey, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member who lives in Asheboro. Rushton and Spivey were responsible for organizing a rally in support of the Silent Sam monument at UNC-Chapel Hill last month that attracted Georgia militia activist James Stachowiak, who has unabashedly advocated shooting women and children associated with Black Lives Matter protests in the back, and who subsequently called for “lone wolf” attacks against “antifa” on social media. After the Silent Sam rally last month, Heirs to the Confederacy publicly disassociated itself from Stachowiak.

The upcoming Heirs to the Confederacy event scheduled for Jan. 13 is described as a multi-stage affair beginning at UNC-Chapel Hill from 9 a.m. to noon, and then moving to the Confederate monument in Winston-Salem from 2 to 3 p.m. A contradictory note appended to the Facebook event page indicates, “The Winston-Salem part of this event has been canceled. Due to a request from United Daughters of the Confederacy. As to not impair their fight to keep this monument in place. There will be a prayer and flower laying at this monument 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.”

Writing on behalf of the owners of the Old Forsyth Courthouse, which is now 50 West Fourth apartments, Horn wrote, “The owner’s primary responsibility is to the residents of the property who have the right to enjoy a quality living space without being subjected to disturbances of any kind. Unfortunately, the recent controversy, the press reports, and references to potential violence have raised serious concerns for some of the residents.”

There had been some confusion as to which entity actually controlled the statue. Horn wrote on behalf of the apartment owner that the 2014 purchase agreement between the owner and the county specifically excluded “public monuments outside the building,” and that the owner agreed to grant the county “necessary easements to allow the county continued access to the land and building to ‘maintain and/or remove’ the monuments at the county’s expense.”

County Attorney Gordon Watkins told City Beat that the county holds no objections to the monument being removed.

“We don’t have a role in it,” he said. “We don’t own the land under it…. It’s not our decision.”

Horn wrote to the United Daughters of the Confederacy: “Notably, the owner has not granted any easement to the county with respect to the statue. Therefore, the statue is not located on public property and thus is not covered by NC Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1. No one can access the statue, or enter upon the property for any purpose without the owner’s permission.”

Public opinion among Winston-Salem residents appears to tilt in favor of removing the statue, although monument supporters from other parts of the state, including the neo-Confederate group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, or ACTBAC, have expressed vocal dismay.

Mayor Joines allowed 10 speakers during public comment at the city council meeting on Monday, with a preference given to residents, and nine out of 10 speakers spoke in favor of removal. The one speaker who urged the city to protect the monument was Stephen Triplett of High Point who quoted Proverbs 22:28 by saying, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”

Among proponents for removal, Will Cox, a local radiologist, reflected on the climate of racial terror that surrounded the erection of the statue in 1905, noting that the man who gave the dedication speech had led a massacre against the black population of Wilmington only seven years earlier — the only successful coup d’etat in US history. Alfred Waddell, who gave the dedication speech for the Winston-Salem Confederate monument, is remembered for declaring in another speech: “We will never surrender to a ragged raffle of negros, even if we have to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses.”

Cox argued that racial terror invoked by Waddell speaks loudly and clearly to the present moment.

“These right-wing white supremacists are on the march,” Cox told Mayor Joines and members of city council. “Unfortunately, they have a mouthpiece that’s heard far and wide. It’s very important that you all take a stand. I’m very happy that you’ve already demanded that the statue be removed. The statue needs to be out of the county, out of the city; it should not be anywhere where it can be seen. It’s a symbol of terror and it scares people…. Unless we really do want a memorial to terror, that thing needs to be out of here.”

Supporters of the Confederate monument, who held a sidewalk rally in front of City Hall on Monday argued that the city’s initiative on the statue was a ruse to distract from problems related to crime and immigration. ACTBAC, which has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and sent at least five members to Winston-Salem on Monday posted on its Facebook page. “Winston-Salem has jumped on a bandwagon of liberal, lawless, Democratic-run places in our country that express unity, safe spaces, better education as long as it fits their agenda — their agenda,” the post said. “Not what the majority of the people want, but what a 15-minutes-of-fame liberal mayor wants. In previous history, Southerners refer to acts such as this as tyranny.”

The post goes on to say: “This was never about a flag, a monument, or Southern symbols. This is about a bigger picture that many have failed to see. They want to erase us completely. We, true Southern people, can accept defeat, but giving up is never an option.”

Supporters of removal also indicated that they care as much, or more, about present-day struggles as historic commemoration.

“I’m elated that city council has now taken a firm stance on this issue,” said Miranda Jones, a Winston-Salem native and local educator. “I’m elated, but not encouraged. I’m not encouraged because too often my people get rhetoric and no action. I’m not encouraged because I want the statue to come down, but I want my people to at least have the opportunity to be able to live and work jobs with a livable wage in downtown Winston or any other area of the city that they choose.”

The statue has turned out to be an ambiguous asset for Clachan Properties’ efforts to market upscale apartments in the repurposed courthouse. The company website includes a photo of the statue in a solicitation for renters of its spacious two- and three-bedroom apartments equipped with hardwood and stained concrete floors and granite countertops. In an August 2015 marketing video, a narrator touts the apartments’ “historic charm infused with a modern, luxurious style of living.” Even after the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., when a white supremacist rallying around the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, killed Heather Heyer, Clachan Properties issued a marketing video showcasing the Confederate monument in Winston-Salem.

The letter to the United Daughters of the Confederacy asserts that “the owner has not and is not taking any political position and is not being influenced by any political motives.” But the letter goes on to say that the statue impedes residents’ ability “to enjoy a quality living space without being subjected to disturbances of any kind.”

The letter closes by saying, “If the United Daughters elect not to remove the statue as requested, the owner will have no choice but to explore other available options, including cooperating with the city on the proposed relocation of the statue to Salem Cemetery.”

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