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LOUISBURG — The Louisburg town council voted to move a Confederate statue to Oakwood Cemetery in a close decision Monday night.
The statue sits on North Main Street and serves as a memorial to those who died in the Civil War, according to a plaque on the statue. It will be moved to the older section of Oakwood Cemetery. A flag pole and a plaque honoring all service members will replace it.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition on Change.org to remove the statue. During the meeting, around 50 people stood outside town hall to protest the proposal to move it, according to Mayor Karl T. Pernell. Several people from both sides sent comments to the town clerk before the meeting or to the town administrator during a public comment period on Zoom.
Council Member Christopher Neal spoke in favor of moving the statue to the cemetery, saying it caused him concern every time he saw it and it was time for a change.
“It was said the world was going to end if we integrated Louisburg High School,” Neal said. “We integrated, and the world didn't come to an end.
“When I was a little boy, I couldn't even cross the campus of Louisburg College. … Never did we think that Louisburg College would have a majority African American student body.”
He wanted the statue to be moved before the students returned.
Mayor Pro Tem Betty Wright grew up with the statue and wanted it moved because she did not want anyone to get hurt while trying to remove it themselves. Council Member Boyd Sturges worried that the police department would not be able to keep the peace if that happened.
“The first line says, 'To our Confederate dead,' and that's where it needs to go, to a cemetery where it's meant to be,” Wright said.
Moving the monument to Oakwood Cemetery would allow it to be contemplated in its historical context, Council Member Emma Stewart said.
Council Member Tom Clancy worried the town did not have the legal right to move it because no one could tell him who owned the statue. He wanted clarification before the council voted.
The cost of removal worried Council Member Mark Russell. He was also worried that the vote had been called very quickly, which may have kept people from making their wishes known.
“We need an open dialogue to discuss what's going on in our community,” Russell said. “We can hide a statue. That's great, but that doesn't solve our problems.”
He made a motion to table the decision until July. The motion died from a lack of a second.
Wright argued that the statue has been an ongoing argument for years and that she would rather it come down safely than someone try to pull it down in the middle of the night. Neal agreed, saying he had heard calls to wait for too long.
“We can't kick it down the road anymore. It has to be done,” Neal said. “If we let it go, it'll come up again at a later time and who knows what the situation will be then?”
Sturges made the motion to move the statue, which Wright seconded. It passed 4-3 with Pernell, Clancy and Russell voting against.