Special to Iredell Free News
A coalition of Iredell County residents, state and local NAACP chapters, and a local clergy group filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Iredell County Superior Court against Iredell County, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners, and the commissioners themselves in an effort to have the Confederate monument removed from the grounds of the Iredell County Government Center in Statesville.
The lawsuit alleges that the Confederate monument celebrates slavery, secession and white supremacy, and creates a threat to public safety at taxpayers expense. The monument’s continuing presence also violates multiple provisions of the North Carolina Constitution, according to the 54-page lawsuit.
“Iredell County’s use of the Sheriff’s Department to maintain and protect the Confederate Monument in Statesville bears no rational, real or substantial relation to public health, morals, order, or safety, or the general welfare of the people of Iredell County,” the lawsuit contends. “To the contrary, maintaining and protecting a monument to the Confederacy, which venerates white supremacy, slavery and secession, is an arbitrary and unreasonable use of government power with no connection to any public good.”
Many Iredell County residents have called for the Confederate monument’s removal, saying that its presence creates an unsafe environment and causes pain to Iredell County’s Black residents.
On March 3, the Iredell County Board of Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to remove the Confederate monument, conceding in their Resolution that the monument “occupied a prominent position in front of the justice system during a period of Jim Crow laws, segregation and endemic discrimination against African-Americans,” and that, for Black residents, the monument “continues to serve as a reminder of policies of oppression, having their roots in the system of slavery that existed in the Confederate States of America.”
After voting to remove the monument, however, the commissioners reversed course in the face of political pressure and said the monument would not be moved.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are:
• Christopher A. “Skip” McCall, a Statesville resident;
• Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV. Rev. Lee, a Statesville resident and descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee;
• The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a civil rights organization whose mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination.
• The NAACP Statesville Branch, which has been asking commissioners to relocate the monument for decades;
• The NAACP South Iredell Branch; and
• Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice, an organization of local religious leaders from various denominations which serves as a voice for the underrepresented, disenfranchised, and underserved members of the Iredell County community by addressing social, civic, economic, and educational disparities.
McCall, a Vietnam veteran who protested segregation during the Civil Rights Movement, recalls his grandmother telling him when he was a child that the monument was erected to honor those who fought to keep “our people” in slavery. He promised his grandmother that he would “continue to work as long as there’s breath in my body to satisfy her dreams, her prayers, and her wishes” that the monument be moved.
Rev. Steve Shoemaker, speaking for the local clergy group, said the monument “has continued to cause anguish in the lives of people of color and moral discomfort” to others in the community. “Our faith traditions compel us ‘to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,’ and ‘to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Such neighborly love leads us to our support of the relocation of the Confederate monument.”
Rev. Lee called the monument “a celebration of white supremacy and racism.” He said he wants to raise his two recently adopted daughters “in a world where we stand for what we say we stand for, that is equal justice under the law.”
The plaintiffs are represented by David and Carey Parker from the Parker Law Offices in Statesville.
“We are honored to represent the Plaintiffs in this lawsuit and to be part of a team who is peacefully seeking resolution in the courts,” David Parker said in the news release.
In addition, the plaintiffs are represented by a team of attorneys from the international law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP, a firm with a long history of representing clients in North Carolina. Damarr Butler, an associate in O’Melveny’s Washington, D.C., office, is assisting in the case, along with former North Carolina Deputy Attorney General Hampton Dellinger, Cheyenne N. Chambers and Abraham Rubert-Schewel of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen in Charlotte, and Stuart M. Paynter and Gagan Gupta of Paynter Law in Hillsborough.
These lawyers are also involved with the pending lawsuits in Gaston and Alamance counties seeking the removal their Confederate monuments.