Graham ‘looks a lot like Mississippi in the ’60s’

A couple of weeks ago I received a message via social media from a friend who lives in another county. He was curious about what’s going on in Graham, the county seat of Alamance County. At the time only 48 hours had passed following another tense Saturday of protests, counter-protests, shouting and arrests in a quiet town where that is hardly the norm, although it is becoming that way.

“The stuff in Graham is scary,” he wrote and then referenced images of the county sheriff and members of a neo-confederate group and added, “it looks a lot like Mississippi in the ‘60s.”

Yeah, that’s something to put on your Chamber of Commerce promotional materials.

But my friend isn’t wrong. Just a few days later I was contacted by the Opinion Page editor for the Winston-Salem Journal, someone I know only via Facebook and our mutual friends. He asked if I would be willing to write about the situation in Graham for his newspaper. I was and I did. Here’s the link.

Much of what I put together for the column for the Winston-Salem Journal I have written before in previous posts on my own site. But the controversy over the Confederate monument at the Historic Courthouse in downtown Graham is far from over unless elected leaders in the community show some actual leadership.

Over the past few weeks the situation involving peaceful protests under the banner of Black Lives Matter have occurred, the latest was today ((Saturday, July 25, 2020). Four people were confronted by sheriff’s deputies for simply standing beside the monument and holding signs. They were asked to move. When the people declined, they were charged with resisting an officer and obstructing traffic. Those arrested included a Burlington pastor, a member of the county Board of Elections, and the president of the Alamance County Branch of the NAACP. I know two of them personally and have found them to be intelligent, reasonable and interested only in improving our community. They were later released with a written promise to appear in court on Aug. 20. Photos below are by Elon professor Tony Crider.

The Times-News has a pretty thorough report about today’s rally and arrests up on its website now.

The protest and arrests fall into the category of civil disobedience and what the now late John Lewis called “good trouble.” The arrests make a statement in and of itself. It is part of the action. About 70 people in all attended the NAACP rally in downtown Graham. I heard no word about any counter-protest by the neo-Confederate group, Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County (ACTBAC). When this organization and other sympathetic pro-Confederate groups are in the mix is when things get dangerous. This is what happened two weeks ago when my friend contacted me.

Ben Harris has been documenting actions, or a lack of actions, by elected leaders in Graham and the county for the past couple of weeks. He started a YouTube channel of video compiled from meetings, starting with one last Monday of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners. This video highlights the public comment portion of the meeting and how the commissioners responded. Mainly this week board members kept their comments to themselves upon the advice of legal counsel. This is because they are named in a lawsuit by the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union. In the background you can hear protesters outside the meeting chambers. They were there the entire session calling for the resignations of board members and Sheriff Terry Johnson.

Harris is monitoring via video conference meetings of the Graham City Council as well as the county commissioners. He is compiling on Facebook what occurs as the meetings unfold. Some of the actions are eye-opening for people who don’t regularly attend government meetings. Officials on both boards cited the ACLU lawsuit as a reason for not discussing the protests of the Confederate monument. Here’s the latest on the lawsuit, by the way, published in the Times-News this week. There are troubling accusations contained in the complaint, some I’ve heard before.

At the center of everything is the Confederate monument, inappropriately located in the hub of county government. It’s stands at what should be a symbol of justice for all — a courthouse. But the statue itself symbolizes a system built upon inequity and injustice for thousands of Black people for centuries.

The statue, dedicated on May 16, 1914 and given through the Daughters of the Confederacy, stands 30-feet tall. Inside the base is a time capsule containing relics of the Civil War period, including names of Civil War dead from Alamance County. Its supporters contend it symbolizes history, not hate. Its opponents contend that the heritage being memorialized is one of hate that has marginalized black Americans for decades and fuels racist actions both blatant and subtle. Those who want the statue moved also point out that it was established as a statement of white supremacy almost 50 years after the end of the war and in the Jim Crow era of strident racism in the South. Protests at the Graham monument started to occur regularly after the public murder of George Floyd on May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer was seen on videotape by millions of people.

I have promoted moving the statue to a more suitable location multiple times over the past several years. Many agree. Even County Manager Brian Hagood recommended it be moved to the commissioners after a particularly tense Saturday confrontation in which an Elon professor was assaulted. The statue itself has become a rallying point for those for and against it. I fear there will be a tragedy there unless something changes.

Graham isn’t alone. Confederate monuments, nearly all erected in the early 1900s, are found in many Southern towns or institutions. Salisbury removed its 1900s era monument in early July calling it a public safety hazard. Raleigh allowed protesters to take down Confederate statues at the capitol in June. The University of Mississippi removed a statue from its campus this month. And Friday Virginia — the capital of the Confederacy — took down Civil War monuments and plaques on the state capital grounds to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and others.

So yes, these things can and should be moved. If Virginia can do it, government can.

There is evidence to indicate that Graham officials might have the authority to have the statue moved. The county commissioners also have that authority. There is written indication that the state Department of Transportation would be willing to help should a decision to move it be made. But so far none of the elected leaders seems anxious to make what would be the wise decision and move the statue to a museum, cemetery or memorial park and eliminate a controversial symbol, a public safety hazard and an unnecessary expense of money and time by law enforcement to protect it.

For now, the ball is in Graham’s court. There are no votes on the county board of commissioners to move it and I would classify many of the board members as indifferent to racism, which is by my definition racist.

The background hum of disturbing social media traffic I have mentioned before continues to play on a non-stop loop in our community. Some of the posts or public statements by Alamance County leaders expose racism’s deep roots and inform the community of how much work is ahead to be rid of it. It will take far more than simply removing the Confederate statue from its place at the epicenter of government.

But I still believe doing so would be a good start.

Other posts about Race, Bias and Privilege can be found here.






3 thoughts on “Graham ‘looks a lot like Mississippi in the ’60s’

  1. Madison

    Do you truly believe that Amy Scott Galey is indifferent to racism?

    How about Steve Carter, Vice Chair of the County Board of Commissioners?

    Bill Lashley he’s a money Hawk, but indifferent to racism!??

    Tim Sutton ??

    Eddie Boswell — seems like he’s always worked for the betterment of our community regardless the race of people involved.

    Tony Crider, Elon Professor is an Astronomy guy in the Elon Faculty. His wife is as radical as they come being a member of some Worldwide Workers party that will protest any issue at the drop of a hat.

    Noah ?? Was former Director of NAACP after the big fat black guy who now has a Federal job.

    I heard Barrett Brown @ a NAACP meeting I attended at the Depot amphitheater. My takeaway is he’s a fair speaker, short on facts & history knowledge and an avid TRUMP HATER.

    One question I have is do any of these NAACP people have a real job? Do they attempt to live the American dream & create wealth that can benefit their associates especially blacks?

    Crider & Meghan his wife use their liberal Elon affiliations as a platform to usurp the rule of law in NC — if I’m not mistaken aren’t there laws that protect monuments & statues even “Confederate” ones?

    You may now have been sucked into the Elon U Liberal culture yourself or you may view it as “growth” of your character & broadening of your “humanity”??

    Personally I’ve read much history and I have lived through Jim Crow during the 1950’s & up to today. You could call the legislation promoted and signed into law in 1993, by none other than Bill Clinton another wave of Jim Crow. Donald Trump promoted & got legislation that is freeing hundreds of thousands of black youths who were disproportionately arrested & imprisoned for non violent crimes, often just Posession.

    I want lawbreakers arrested & courts to decide their Futures. And I prefer that these liberal, do-gooders get what they deserve under the law.

    It’s always a danger to our constitutional Republic when we abandon the rules of law and react & make changes simply because they can get up a movement among mindless hangers-on.

    I’m in favor of altering the way that Confederate history is preserved. But I really don’t like lawlessness that we are seeing.

    J Brooks

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. John, I’m disappointed in your response. I know that you and I likely differ on ideology but you always seemed to be moderate in your views, and pragmatic towards results vs. loyal to party doctrine. For example you seemed to support Ian Baltutis for mayor (Democrat).

    My thoughts on your response:

    I personally can not say without a doubt that any of our county commissioners are racist. I do not know what is in their hearts, or in their thoughts. Although I’ve met some of them and spoken with them I do not know them well. I can however comment on their history of action and their statements.

    Amy Galey: A few years ago she openly mused on Facebook something to the effect of “why is it ok for students to be out of class for 30 mins to be part of a nation-wide awareness/protest of gun violence, but its NOT ok for them to wear a confederate flag tee shirt” – this was after Dillion Ruth’s use of gun violence in the name of white supremacy, with photos he posted in a confederate flag tee shirt. Also after local folks again asked the Commissioners to open a dialog about moving the statue in Graham (yet again to deaf ears)

    At a county commissioners meeting where issues on race, the statue, and the history of Alamance County she talked about reading a book about/from a plantation owners wife, and the burden she felt because she knew that her children with her husband were mingling with the children he’d had (probably by rape) with slaves they owned. Her attitude was not sympathy for the slaves who had been raped and forced to have children, or the children being born into slavery, just her own feelings of being used or cheated on.

    During the most recent CC meeting she was asking questions about Covid-19 statistics and musing why the rates for Hispanics and African Americans were not the same. In talking to several others watching the meeting with me live the consensus was, the way she was talking about African Americans, she might as well have been talking about Martians. She seemed that out of touch.

    If you look at her FB page she does not seem to have very many friends who are people of color, or people much different than her in terms of overall demographics and ideology.

    Steve Carter, I know less about (he’s only served part of a term and hasn’t said much.) However when you brought him to the makerspace to learn about what we are doing he lost interest after about 20 minutes and got distracted by talking with a member’s 80 year old mother when they got off topic and talked about their hip replacement surgeries. He’s posted tone deaf things to his personal facebook wall including including reposting a mega-church minister from Alabama who rants about how Covid-19 isn’t real and masks are Marxist tyranny. Again a review of his facebook friends does not show much diversity of ideology, skin color, age, etc etc.

    Bill Lashley. When constituents sent him well thought out respectful messages this summer to ask him what he proposed to do to help with the threats of violence and continuous states of emergency and disruptions in Graham around the confederate statue, his response was “You are clearly a Democrat, and this is why you hate your country”

    When Bob Byrd (former CC and then the only Democrat) voted yes to spending money on a DA program that helped prosecute more people (something Lashley agreed with and also voted for), Bob spent a few minutes talking about recent education he’d had on Trauma Informed Education, and programs to help keep kids out of gangs, stop violence, and ultimately prevent crime in the first place, and said that going forward we should look more into that research to try to fix the problem proactively, vs. spending more money on jails and police… i.e. reduce actual crime vs just prosecuting it after the fact (also good for victims of crime). Lashley cut him off as he was speaking by saying “what a bunch of bullshit” and then went on to talk about his own history as a law enforcement officer and “those people” are just bad and will be bad… (Galey as chair did nothing to moderate one council member talking over and insulting another one nor did she admonish his language)

    Lashley recently got into national headlines for his tone deaf statement on law enforcement…. the line about “you can’t do today what you could in my day, beat the hell out of them” (or whatever the exact quote was)

    Tim Sutton… I see you put NO qualifiers on him… He has a lengthy history of tone deaf, dog whistle, and outright racist remarks. He was in trouble years ago for his calls into local radio shows. He was in international (not just national) news for his statements about his ancestors owning slaves “some might call them slaves, we just thought of them as workers”, He almost got into a fist fight on camera with Michael Graves (former head of the local NAACP) if not for the Sheriff breaking them up. I could go on and on about him. Of all of them, I can’t say he’s racist, but yes he is clearly indifferent to racism.

    Eddie Boswell… of all of the current CC’s I will say he has been the most approachable, moderate, and pragmatic (results over party) that I’ve seen. As a result they stripped him of his chair, and many local republicans have accused him of being a Rino. I’ve not seen him say or do anything, but I’ve also not seen him repudiate or counter anything anyone else has said or done either.

    This isn’t about party, this isn’t about ideology, this isn’t even really about racism. This is about bad leadership. This is about the idea that its not good to have a county that is 50/50 Republicans/Democrats but a CC made of up five republicans all white, four men, four over sixty, several 16+ years/multiple terms in office. Its also about fairness, openness, and a desire to open dialogs and have conversations vs. just ignoring people and sticking to party lines. At the same time these people have been a continuous embarassment to this county. Their meetings have even been lampooned on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” over ACTBAC statements they’ve made (related to Confederate iconography)

    Next you bring of Tony Crider and his wife Megan… the only mention of them in Madison’s post is the fact that he’s using pictures Tony has taken in Graham. Clearly they touch a nerve for you, but why?

    The things you accuse them of, can you back them up? do you know them for a fact? I can (if I take the time) give you video evidence of everything I say above about the CC’s. Have you ever spent time with Tony and Megan or their family? I’m a little more than acquaintances with them and I find them to be kind, thoughtful, caring about their community, good educators that care about their students, and great parents who have raised/are raising amazing children. They also put their money where their mouth is in terms of being active in protests (where they have been assaulted physically here in Graham just a few weekends ago)

    You criticise Megan for protesting, isn’t this country built on protest? Also even if you don’t agree with her cause or words, isn’t it a core American value “I don’t agree with what your saying, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it” Counter people on ideas and policy, not personally.

    Megan’s work in data science (mining social media data to connect people to groups, in many cases domestic terrorists, hate groups, etc etc) has been lauded by Wired Magazine and many others. Its help expose people and connections. Did you know when they were in Charlottesville she was on the sidewalk just feet away from the young woman who was killed by the man driving his car into the crowd. If she had been walking a few feet over she may not still be with us? (the people Trump called “very good people on both sides”)

    DId you know that her work to expose folks in ACTBAC and connections to other groups like the kKK or League of the South, Proud Boys, etc etc earned death threats to her children? (the Daily Stormer posted photos of them, personal info, home address, photos of their house, and photos of their children). They also called 100’s of phone numbers in the elon staff directory asking their co-workers and colleagues to get the fired because they were “Jew Agitators working with you” They’ve been through a lot to protest for what they believe in.

    I’m sure they’d sit down and discuss their views, reasons, ideology peacefully and respectfully if you wanted to take the time. Maybe you’d change their minds, maybe they’d change yours. But don’t demonize them OR attack Madison’s post because he knows them or uses their photos. .

    Moving on to Barrett Brown, I’ve been beyond impressed with him and have learned a lot about history (local history, history of our nation in how we’ve treated people of color and minorities, and a lot more due to just idle conversations with him around town. To me your “he’s well spoken but doesn’t know what he’s talking about” is a way to delegitimize someone who is speaking a truth that you and your side clearly don’t want to acknowledge. Its a VERY OLD trick, and easy to see through. This weekend he decided to follow in John Lewis’ steps and get into some “good trouble” and I applaud that courage. The only reason its necessary for him to do that (and all the other protests in Graham) is because local leadership refuses to listen, not to act, to even just listen in the first place.

    I don’t see Elon as being overly partisan or liberal. I also don’t see Madson as being a person who is apt to be brainwashed into a different way of thinking even if they were. Its ok to disagree with me or him, but don’t insult us and our views by assuming group think, or overt outside influence. Perhaps we are adults who have come to our own conclusions, flawed though they may be.

    The rest of your comment kind of goes off the rails so I wont keep going on. I’m glad you are involved in our community, many others just don’t care at all, don’t read, don’t comment, don’t attend things, don’t even vote. But I’m disappointed that you seem to have jumped onto Trump’s narrative that “democrats/liberals are far left marxist agitators and the enemy of america along with the fake media, etc etc”

    I want better leadership in this county, and I don’t see that coming from the local Republican party. Again its not about ideology, its about people who are really qualified to be leaders.

    Or, if I was as eloquent a writer as Madison, and less long winded than I am… “Wow. Wrong about nearly everything.”

    Liked by 1 person

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