The state NAACP, its Alamance County branch, other county residents and organizations are suing Alamance County and its board of commissioners to get the Confederate statue that stands outside the county courthouse removed.
The suit filed in Superior Court on Tuesday says the monument on the courthouse grounds in Graham honors white supremacy and violates the state constitution.
Alamance County attorney Clyde Albright could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
Local governments from across the state have been removing Confederate monuments from prominent public places in recent years, despite a 2015 state law meant to protect them. The pace of removals increased after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in late May of last year. Floyd was an unarmed Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. The former officer, Derek Chauvin, is on trial charged with murder.
The Southern Poverty Law Center counted at least 167 Confederate symbols removed nationwide after Floyd’s death. North Carolina was second among states for removing Confederate symbols last year, at 24, the SPLC reported.
The Alamance monument is the site of protests by both anti-racists and neo-Confederate groups. In his annual report, Alamance Sheriff Terry Johnson said the office spent nearly $750,000 last year on law enforcement for 39 gatherings and protests. The lawsuit said the most of the protests were likely at the Confederate monument, and represented the expense as a fiscal drain on the county.
Alamance County manager Bryan Hagood recommended last year that commissioners move the monument, saying it was a threat to public safety.
“I don’t believe it is right for things to come to violence over this issue where law enforcement and/or citizens on any side of the issue are hurt or killed,” he wrote.
The Alamance Board of Commissioners has determined that the state law prevents removing the statue. The NAACP suit says commissioners are misreading the state law.
Alamance was the focus of national attention last year when law enforcement officers pepper sprayed demonstrators – including children – who were kneeling in front of the monument in George Floyd’s memory.
The monument was erected in 1914, during Jim Crow, “with the purpose of honoring white supremacy and the Confederacy,” the suit says.
“The County’s decision to maintain and protect the monument cannot be separated from the intent of those who raised it. The monument stands as a symbol of white supremacy in front of the doors to the County courthouse and at the center of the community, and therefore uniquely imposes harms on Black plaintiffs. Every person who enters the Alamance County courthouse must view a governmental embrace of white supremacy before seeking impartial justice.”
The lawsuit asks that the county move the monument and keep it off public property.