Alamance County defends decision to keep Confederate monument in Graham

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  • Alamance County filed paperwork with the NC Court of Appeals this week defending county commissioners' decision not to remove a Confederate monument in Graham in 2020.
  • Plaintiffs led by the state NAACP challenge the decision. A trial judge ruled in favor of the county.
  • County commissioners say a 2015 state law prevented them from taking any action to remove the monument from the Alamance County courthouse property.

Alamance County commissioners filed paperwork with the state’s second-highest court this week defending their decision not to remove a Confederate monument from the county courthouse property in Graham in 2020.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals is considering a challenge to that decision from plaintiffs led by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.

A trial judge ruled in favor of the county. “The trial court’s order should be affirmed because there is no genuine issue of material fact that the applicable statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1 (2021), prohibits Alamance County from removing the Confederate Monument,” wrote lawyers representing the county and commissioners named as defendants in the NAACP’s lawsuit. “[E]ven if the Monument Law allowed removal, the Commissioners’ decision not to move it was protected by legislative immunity.”

The General Assembly enacted § 100-2.1 in July 2015, weeks after South Carolina legislators removed a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

“The Alamance County Monument falls under this statute, which provides: ‘An object of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed and may only be relocated, whether temporarily or permanently,” under circumstances listed in the law, according to the county’s brief.

In the summer of 2020, Graham was one of the locations that saw protests stemming from reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Alamance County Manager Bryan Haygood suggested that county commissioners consider removing the monument in Graham. “He expressed concern for the safety of people who might come to protect the Monument and those who might protest it,” according to the county’s brief.

County Attorney Clyde Albright recommended against removing the monument during a September 2020 county commissioners’ meeting. He cited the state law regarding historic monuments.

Commissioners decided to take no action. That decision prompted the NAACP lawsuit.

“The issue in this case is a legal one, not a factual one,” the county’s lawyers argued. “First does the Monument Law prohibit the removal of the Alamance County Monument in this case? This case involves a question of law and whether a statute that the Legislature enacted to address precisely this type of situation should be followed.”

“Plaintiffs concede that the Monument Law is constitutional, but do not want it applied because they do not like the Monument,” the brief continued. “This begs the question: Could the Monument Law ever apply to any Confederate monument? If not, then why did the Legislature enact the law in the summer of 2015 when Confederate monuments were being removed all over the country?”

Monument critics cited Haygood’s concerns as a reason for county commissioners to remove the monument. The county’s brief labels that argument “misplaced.” “The County Manager is not statutorily authorized to determine whether the monument ‘poses a threat of public safety because of an unsafe of dangerous condition,’” according the Alamance brief. “Since a ‘building inspector or similar official’ such an unsafe or dangerous condition exists here based on the structure of the Monument itself, the exception cited by Plaintiffs does not apply.”

“The statute’s language is clear and would need a novel interpretation for the plaintiffs to reach their desired result,“ the brief added. “The trial court was bound, as a matter of law, to give it effect.”

State legislators did not give the county “discretion to remove monuments without preconditions,” Alamance County argued. “Instead, it severely restricted the County’s ability to act. It did so constitutionally, according to Plaintiffs, and the County has followed that law. The commissioners’ individual opinions on the matter are irrelevant in the face of a constitutional statute with a clear command to local governments.”

The state NAACP and fellow plaintiffs will have a chance to respond to Alamance County’s arguments. Plaintiffs filed paperwork Thursday seeking a two-week extension in the deadline for that reply. The extended deadline would be Sept. 25.

The state Appeals Court has not yet scheduled the case for oral arguments.