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Public comment at Council meeting leads to spirited discussion of Confederate monument

Public comment at Council meeting leads to spirited discussion of Confederate monument

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As local business owner Kamala Bauers stood before the Floyd Town Council during its regularly-scheduled meeting Thursday night, she told the group, “There’s so many places I’d rather be.”

Bauers spoke emotionally on removing the Confederate monument from the court house lawn for reasons that were twofold, as she described. “What’s happening in our country right now is devastating…I want to see that statue gone, because it does not belong in front of a courthouse where people of color have to pass by to do their government business,” she said. She then added that “defending an indefensible, racist statue” is bad for business, and reflects poorly on Floyd.

The Council moved through its previously-released agenda items before Town Vice-Mayor Mike Patton asked whether the group would be willing to return to the topic of Bauers’ comments at the end of the meeting.

Michele Morris, another business owner in town and a Black woman, was asked directly by Patton if she was willing to share her perspective on the statue with the Council, and she agreed.

Speaking of her parents, who were educated or raised in the South, Morris said, “We always saw things like (the statue) as racist, and an affront to us.” Morris described raising her own family in Floyd and said, “For me, there are a lot of instances where we’ve had to traverse some racist water.” She seconded Bauers’ contention that the monument was difficult to explain or defend to visitors, and argued that, “Removal of the monument would be a good thing for the town.”

Councilman David Whitaker asked Morris whether removal meant moving the statue, or something else, to which Morris responded that she was the wrong person to ask. She compared it to asking a Jewish person where a Nazi flag should be displayed.

Patton raised the point that not all Black people in Floyd necessarily agree with Morris’ perspective on the statue, alluding to a recent Floyd Press article in which Michele Stuart Tucker was quoted defending the statue. “The Black community in Floyd is not a monolith,” Morris said, but added that “there are people who feel there would be some retribution if they spoke openly.”

Later in the meeting, Councilman Bruce Turner, who is a Black man, echoed this sentiment. “I think there’s more people against that statue than for it…but they don’t want to voice it because they live in this community,” he said. Turner said for some who defend the statue, it is undeniably a symbol of racism, and “it’s time for a change.”

“I’ve lived here all my life, I know what racism is,” Turner said. “I’ve experienced it.” Turner, who recently retired as the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office chief investigator after 32 years with the department, described having to walk by the monument each day on his way to work, and cited the scarcity of Black people employed by the county as one piece of evidence that racism persists here.

Councilman Whitaker pointed out that the Town government has little authority over the statue, as it’s on county property, but suggested that the issue be placed as a referendum on November’s ballot. Morris argued that doing so would essentially be asking people to vote for or against racism, and that an affirmative result would look bad for Floyd.

Turner added, “There was no referendum to put it there. There are some folks who treat it as their heritage, but then there are some that use it as hatred, racism, and that’s why I have a problem with it.” Turner hypothesized that if the local government were to suggest adding a monument of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the courthouse lawn, “It would be shut down before it begins.”

Earlier in the discussion, Mayor Will Griffin expressed some hesitation to take clear sides on the issue, saying, “I depend on this community for my living—it’s not worth making half this town angry. In my head, I know where I am.” He added, however, “That statue sits at the courthouse, where it’s perceived that everyone is treated equally.” He said it’s necessary that the town and county “remove doubt” that’s the case.

Following Turner’s remarks, Griffin said, “I can see your emotion and that changes how I feel about it. I want to stand with you.” Griffin also said that as a “middle-aged white guy,” he didn’t feel like he had the authority to speak on racial issues, but Morris pushed back on this assessment from her seat in the audience.

“Now is not the time to check your white privilege,” she said. “I totally understand where you’re coming from,” she said, but pointed out that she is a business owner too—as is Bauers—and they also have a lot to lose by voicing their opinions. She said she wasn’t telling Griffin what to do, but encouraged him to speak up on the issue.

Patton spoke about being a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis, and said Confederate monuments are important to his personal history and heritage. Patton also offered a defense of Roger Altizer, who was arrested during Floyd’s Juneteenth vigil after berating attendees of the vigil for hours and ultimately, pushing one attendee during a profanity-laced tirade. Altizer had shoved a Confederate flag in the faces of vigil attendees, paced in front of the vigil with a larger flag, yelled curses at the group and more. He was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and assault.

“We had a brief but decent chat,” Patton said of his interaction with Altizer at the vigil. “I didn’t believe in his cause, but I admired his courage.” Patton added that, “I really object to the fact that he was the only person charged from that incident…I don’t want to see anybody railroaded.” Patton did not specify what crimes he thought any attendees of the vigil committed.

Ultimately, however, Patton was the councilman to encourage the group to offer a resolution urging the Board of Supervisors to remove the statue. Patton also said he felt strongly about banning Confederate imagery in schools, and suggested the Council could express support for such an action to the School Board. The Council didn’t act on either of those suggestions during Thursday’s meeting, but Griffin said the group could revisit both issues in a couple weeks.

Before adjourning for the night, Griffin said, “I think it’s good to get to a place where people are uncomfortable,” because that’s when you’re able to learn new things. The Town Council next meets July 16 at 5:30 p.m.

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