Closeup of soldier as it nears the ground
LOUISBURG -- In a matter of minutes just after noon on Saturday, strapping from a crane was attached to the bronze soldier atop Louisburg's Confederate Monument then the soldier was detached from the base and rapidly lowered to a waiting trailer which hauled it to storage. It's likely to remain there until it is installed in the older portion of Oakwood Cemetery.
The action came after the town council voted 4-to-3 in an emergency, virtual meting on June 22 to remove the monument which has become a flash point between protesters for the last few weeks.
The 109-year-old monument stood in the center of North Main Street at the southern edge of the Louisburg College campus and has been the subject of emotional debates locally for years.
While it was being moved on Saturday, a man identified as Dwight Neal stood on the Louisburg College campus and yelled obscene comments at both the crane operators and staff members from The Franklin Times.
On Friday, a crew from WithersRavenel of Cary was working in Oakwood Cemetery with ground-penetrating radar to attempt to locate a safe place for the monument to be re-erected.
The radar unit was being used to make sure that no old graves would be disturbed by the monument's reconstruction -- and several suspected but unmarked graves were uncovered in the initial investigation.
The company was back in town on Wednesday doing another careful check of at least three possible locations of the monument, town officials said.
Louisburg Town Administrator Jonathan Franklin said after the soldier was moved that he was following the council's directive by removing the monument, adding that following the protests and confrontations at and around the monument, the issue became one of public safety.
"We felt we could no longer guarantee the public's safety, adding that his concern included police officers as well as protesters on both sides.
In recent days, the protests have grown more confrontational, especially as those from outside Louisburg joined in, including at least two motorcycle clubs that showed up armed with guns and claw hammers to "defend" the monument.
One Charlotte man was arrested during one of the protests after he allegedly threw something at those defending the monument.
Louisburg Police Chief Jason Abbott noted that the June 26 protest had gotten "pretty heated."
No citations were written, no charges were filed and no one was arrested.
But Franklin County Sheriff Kent Winstead said the tensions had been mounting on both sides and a quick resolution served the public best.
"[The June 26 protest] was a lot more intense," he said. "There were two gangs on each side. That never goes well.
"It got to the point where there was a very imminent threat of violence.
"You had groups on each side waiting for someone to do something," he said. "That's when it explodes.
"At that point, it becomes a public safety situation.
"As long as they kept meeting [at the monument], it was just a matter of time before violence breaks out and someone could get hurt or killed.
"If you wait that long, it's too late."
Franklin said he had trouble finding a crane company that was able to move quickly to move the monument, at least partially because they were tied up around the state and region removing other such monuments.
But as the situation seemed to escalate Friday night, Franklin said, the time had come to act and the move was slated for Saturday about noon.
"That was to show commitment to the council's vote and to provide for public safety and civility," he explained.
The issue also is headed for court after Louisburg attorney Larry Norman filed a request for a Temporary Restraining Order to stop the move before it actually happened.
A hearing on that request has been slated for 10 a.m. Monday, July 6, in Franklin County Superior Court. Judge Wayland Sermons, Jr., of the 9th Judicial Circuit in Washington has been appointed to hear the case.
The town's interests will be represented by Wilson attorney James P. Cauley, III of the Wilson law firm of Cauley Pridgen, Franklin said. Cauley, a litigator, has previously represented the town in other matters.
In the meantime, efforts are ongoing to both find a new location for the monument and plan for its relocation.
Franklin declined to predict when the monument would be re-erected, noting that a site must be selected from three or four possibilities in the cemetery; the town may need an architect or engineer to oversee the reconstruction and that, if the costs are high enough, bids may be needed to select a contractor.
Veteran Town Council member Boyd Sturges, who made the motion to move the monument to the cemetery, said this week that the town had "gone through a period of turmoil" leading up to Saturday's action and that the statue had become the focus of the confrontations.
"It was clearly a public safety issue," Sturges said. "People were at risk, including Louisburg police officers and local residents."
Sturges noted that the confrontations were drawing an increasing number of people from outside of Louisburg and Franklin County.
"There were very emotional feelings on both sides of this issue," he said, "but at the end of the day, we have to have a safe town."
Alluding to the violence and destruction that has surrounded other Confederate monuments, including recently in Raleigh, Sturges said the town's actions help ensure that the historic statue wasn't vandalized and that it can be moved to a "place of honor" in the cemetery which is the final resting place for several Confederate veterans.
Sturges added that he is thankful that no police officers or sheriff's deputies were injured in the confrontation.
"I have nothing but admiration for the officers of Louisburg Police Department and the Franklin County Sheriff's Department for the way they handled this difficult situation," Sturges said.
"I am very proud of both of those departments," he said.
After the monument was moved, Mayor Karl Pernell, who voted against the move said, "we understand that there are a lot of mixed feelings concerning the monument and the events around it these past few weeks.
"The soldier section of the monument was taken down this past Saturday to preserve the monument and to protect public safety. The town is committed to the preservation of the monument and its relocation to the Historic Oakwood Cemetery.
"We understand these are troubling times and look forward to Louisburg coming together as a community and as neighbors," the mayor said.
The decision to move the monument came after more than two years of debate about the monument, including a campaign of letters to the editor of this newspaper, mostly from students at the predominantly African-American Louisburg College student body.
The vote came with Sturges, Christopher Neal, Betty Wright and Emma Stewart voting to move the monument to the cemetery.
Voting against the move were council members Tom Clancy and Mark Russell who were joined by Mayor Karl Pernell.