NC group file lawsuit to have Confederate monument with inscription 'faithful slaves' removed

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COLUMBIA, N.C. -- People who live in a small county in North Carolina have filed a federal lawsuit to have a Confederate-era monument to "faithful slaves" removed from outside the county courthouse.

The monument is a zinc statue resting on a base featuring a bust of Robert E. Lee and the inscription: "IN APPRECIATION OF OUR FAITHFUL SLAVES."

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, May 21, in the Eastern District of North Carolina by a group called The Concerned Citizens of Tyrrell County.

The plaintiffs claim the public monument violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it "expresses a racially discriminatory message."

The inscription on the statue promotes a "pro-slavery message and a pro-Confederate message," according to the lawsuit.

Jaelyn Miller, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told CNN she feels county commissioners have a responsibility to ensure that racist messages are not being displayed to the Black community.

"This is sort of the only monument in the country on public land that textually endorses slavery," Miller said.

Ian Mance, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said the historical record is clear that the monument was meant to send a message.

"It was put up in the front yard of what was soon to be the Tyrrell County Courthouse, which opened a few months later, to communicate to people that members of the Black community could not expect to get justice inside of that courthouse," he said.

The lawsuit alleges the construction of the monument and the county's continued maintenance "communicates, on behalf of local government, the idea that Tyrrell's institutions regard Black people's rightful place as one of subservience and obedience" and that "Black people who were enslaved in Tyrrell County preferred their slavery to freedom."

The lawsuit also claims that the county's display of the message has "incite(d) racial hostility" and endangers the plaintiffs' safety.

The monument has been standing since 1902 and the lawsuit is the latest move in a decades-long battle to have it removed from courthouse grounds.

Mance said the plaintiffs have been attending commission meetings since the 1990s and holding demonstrations since 2019.

"Litigation was our last resort," Sherryreed Robinson, one of the plaintiffs said in a news release announcing the suit. "We have peacefully voiced our objections for years. This monument says our ancestors preferred slavery to freedom. That's a false and hurtful message for the government to communicate."

The monument was unveiled in 1902, nearly 40 years after the end of the Civil War. The event brought together politicians, officials and Confederate veterans, and was described by newspapers at the time as the "most momentous occasion ever celebrated in the county of Tyrrell," the suit states. That day, Thomas Gregory Skinner, a U.S. congressman and veteran of the Confederate army, gave a dedication speech marked by a "masterly defense of the cause of the South," according to the University of North Carolina's online inventory of the state's monuments, shrines, and commemorative public art.

The removal of Confederate monuments gained momentum in North Carolina and across the nation after the death of May 2020 death of George Floyd.