Confederate markers spur citizen outcry to Wilson City Council

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It has been 152 years since the Confederacy was defeated, yet physical reminders of the war remain -- a reality that sparked concern from two residents at the Thursday night Wilson City Council meeting.

"Now, I'm sure you wouldn't have erected a monument in any way to Hitler because you know it would enrage the Jewish citizenry, so why would you allow a monument to be erected to a white supremacist?" asked Castonoble "Cas" Hooks.

The disabled veteran referenced the historical marker for Josephus Daniels on Tarboro Street near Nash Street. The marker, one of three installed in 2016 by the Wilson County Historical Association, marks where Daniels' childhood home was and commemorated his time as secretary of the Navy, an ambassador to Mexico and work as an editor and author. 

Hooks said the plaque ignores his reputation as a white supremacist and instigator in the Wilmington riots.

"What it doesn't tell you is that in 2006 when a state congressional committee was erected to investigate the Wilmington riots, he was found to be an instigator of the Wilmington riots," he said. "A riot in which many people were killed. It is written in contemporary news of the day that the Cape Fear river ran red with black blood and to erect a monument (near) the courthouse was appalling to me."

The other speaker was Erick Jenkins, a Wilson native who is studying at East Carolina University. Jenkins used social media leading up to the meeting to raise awareness about his opposition to two monuments in Wilson.

"I'm definitely against (Civil War monuments)," said Erick Jenkins. "To me, they are monuments of hate, they are against the United States, against the Constitution and against the Declaration of Independence."

The monuments that Jenkins opposes are the memorial drinking fountain on the Wilson County Courthouse square and the Confederate Monument atop a mass grave of Confederate soldiers at Maplewood Cemetery.

The courthouse monument bears the inscription "To the valor of Wilson County soldiers" with the depiction of the United States flag and the Confederate flag. The monument, which was commissioned by chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Daughters of the American Revolution, was dedicated eight years after the end of World War I. 

Originally the monument had segregated fountains, but they were removed in 1960 and replaced with pyramid caps to mirror the middle section of the granite statue. While the monument is on courthouse property, the county does not maintain the statue.

"When it comes to the Confederate flag, I don't believe the city of Wilson should openly display the flag because of the history of the Confederacy," Jenkins said. "... I don't think it represents the ideology of people in this city."

The Confederate Monument was dedicated on Confederate Memorial Day in 1902 and the cannon was added two years later. The monument sits atop a mass grave containing remains that were originally in a Confederate cemetery near the hospital where the soldiers died, but were moved in 1890. The cemetery is city property and a City Council-appointed cemetery commission is responsible for maintenance.

"(The monuments were placed) during the Jim Crow era, so people who were the minority had no say in the matter," Jenkins said. "Now is the time to have a say in the matter."

In a memorandum Jenkins distributed to the council, he recommended establishing an ad-hoc committee of citizens to decide whether the monuments are replaced, redone, maintained or removed completely. He recommended the City Council could vote on the committee's recommendations.

Hooks also urged city officials to take action.

"Now, maybe you didn't know, but now you do," Hooks said. "And now that you know, what are you going to do?"

No city officials responded to the men's comments, but Mayor Bruce Rose did make a comment at the beginning of the meeting about the Charlottesville attacks on Saturday that led to a woman's death. He urged attendees to pray for the country and for officials.

The local concern over Confederate memorials is part of an uptick in national debate over the placement of statues, monuments and other symbols commemorating the Civil War. A 2015 state law prevents city and county governments from removing historical monuments without the N.C. Historical Commission's approval.

Gov. Roy Cooper called for the removal of Confederate monuments on Tuesday, but state Senate leader Phil Berger slammed Cooper's "reactionary rhetoric" and said the issue merits further study.

CORRECTION, Sunday, Aug. 20 — Castonoble Hooks' first name appeared incorrectly in the printed version of this story and photo caption. The spelling of his name has been corrected on WilsonTimes.com. The Times regrets the errors.