The Reidsville Confederate monument has reported via his Twitter account that he “has a splitting headache.”
It’s a comment that’s meant to be funny, but that’s far from what Reidsville city officials and residents are feeling about his demise.
Mark Anthony Vincent, 40, didn’t know the controversy that was about to arise when he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and crashed into Reidsville’s 101-year-old Confederate statue shortly before 5 a.m. Monday. A portion of the statue became embedded in Vincent’s vehicle.
The Confederacy may be a thing of the past, but since the accident, it has been the main topic on the minds of many Reidsville residents. A debate is growing about whether or not the soldier should retake his post keeping watch over the downtown area.
The city is also trying to determine who actually owns the statue. It was assumed when the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the monument that it was a gift to the city, but no one knows for sure.
“It will be difficult to make a lot of decisions before that is finally resolved,” said Mayor James Festerman. “Once you get past that, it becomes ‘what do you do going forward?’”
Interim City Manager Michael Pearce said he is having the matter looked into and the answer will be important in determining what insurance company deals with the costs.
Festerman said no matter what happens, the city will handle it slowly and methodically and allow residents to have a voice about what comes next.
Residents speak out
Reidsville residents have differing views about the statue, and many were gathering near the former site of the monument early Wednesday morning to see the destruction for themselves.
“I personally think that the statue should have been gone a million years ago,” said James Monte. “It should have never been put up. It’s foolishness. It’s a symbol of racism.”
Calvert Smith, an employee at the Reidsville Library, said she misses the statue. The library staff has used it for years as a way of giving directions to their facility. However, she would like to see a change to the traffic circle where the statue once stood.
“Instead of focusing on one thing, we could be a lot more inclusive and have a veteran’s memorial,” said Smith. “Make it more inclusive then divisive.”
Smith said that in Reidsville’s history, more than 100 years ago when the statue was placed, there was only one type of veteran in this area, and that was the Confederate soldiers. Now, since our country has had so many wars, there are a lot more veterans to honor.
Racism was a concern for many residents this week. Andre Walkerson said the United States has moved past racism more and more over the years, including having an African-American president, integrating schools and just getting along better.
“There are a lot of different races down here,” said Walkerson. “We’re trying to come together; we don’t want to be divisive.”
Walkerson said he believes the statue is offensive. He said this country is fighting wars based on getting rid of tyranny and when Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad fell in 2003, America rejoiced. But now, Reidsville’s own statue – which Walkerson said stands for similar principles – has fallen, and no one is rejoicing.
“It’s an icon for some and an eyesore for a lot of people, and it’s an eyesore for me,” said Walkerson.
Sometimes, Walkerson added, you have to look at the other side and see other’s opinions. Personally, he would like to see a water fountain go up in its place.
A group of women gathered near the statue Wednesday afternoon and discussed what needed to be done with the statue. Their opinion was to remove the traffic circle altogether and put a park with the same statue nearby in an open field.
However, they said, this was not a Confederate soldier, though the platform to the monument said it is. The women believe it is actually wearing a Union uniform. This has been a common debate among Reidsville residents since the statue met its demise.
Some residents feel, as Dillard Wood does, that the statue should be put back exactly like it was.
“It is a part of the history of Reidsville, and this is for people who fought in the Confederate army, so I think they should leave it alone,” said Wood.
Wood said every time he drove by he would look up at the monument and think of its role in the town’s history.
“It would be a disgrace if they took it down,” said Wood.
Some people, while agreeing the monument is a part of the city’s history, said they feel Reidsville need to move forward.
“People come to this city from out of state and they come into this city and they see this statue, that leaves a bad taste in their mouths,” said Monte. “I don’t care about history, it’s 2011.”
The city is working with the United Daughters of the Confederacy to determine what should be done, according to Pearce.
Pearce said the city has contacted a local sculptor and a facility in Wilmington that has an extensive background on statues like this one to see if it’s feasible to put it back together. At that point, city officials will also need to determine whether it can be safe outside or if it needs to be placed inside to protect it from further damage.
“We don’t know the answers to this, so we have to get some basic background info, and that’s what I’m doing now,” said Pearce.
Though Vincent was not cited, charges are expected to be filed against him sometime this week.
“Investigation is going forward, and I believe charges will be filed,” said Pearce.
An officer at the Reidsville Police Department confirmed the investigation was expected to wrap up Wednesday night and charges can be expected to come from that.
Festerman plans on setting aside a time for people to come forward and talk about what to do about the statue during the June 8 city council meeting.
“I’m a person who likes to hear from the most diverse group possible,” said Festerman.
Festerman said if a large crowd gathers to voice their opinions, the council may need to restrict commentary down to two minutes a person.
“I feel comfortable that people want to see the right decisions made,” said Festerman. “I think for the most part they’ll trust us to make the right decision.”
Festerman said he is continuing to look at the bright side in this situation. He said that after he received a deluge of phone calls Monday morning regarding the statue, he finally got a few moments of peace. He then sat back and thought that, with all of the death and destruction going on in the Southeast and Midwest from tornadoes and floods, he is pretty fortunate that, as mayor, this is the most he has to deal with.
“I’m not dealing with the loss of lives and mass destruction and that sort of thing,” said Festerman. “We can get through this.”
The June 8 city council meeting will be held at 3 p.m. at City Hall.