Local News

Hillsborough has its own Confederate debate, but about a building

Posted June 22, 2015 10:27 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2015 12:13 a.m. EDT

— Hours after legislative leaders in two states and the nation’s largest retailer took efforts to remove Confederate symbols, Hillsborough commissioners debated taking their own action against the Confederacy.

But Monday’s debate involved not a flag, but two words above the entrance to the Orange County Historical Museum.

Discussion regarding whether to remove the words “Confederate Memorial,” coincidentally, came just a few hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley declared that the Confederate flag should be removed from statehouse grounds. The announcement was made days after nine people were killed inside a black Charleston, S.C. church. The suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, who is white, appeared in photos embracing the flag.

After Haley’s announcement, Mississippi’s Republican house speaker said the Confederate battle emblem should be removed from the state flag. In a statement, Walmart announced plans to remove all items promoting the flag from its stores and website, according to news reports.

Opponents say the flag is a symbol of racism used by the Confederacy, which supported slavery, and then by groups such as the Klu Klux Klan. Proponents say the flag is about heritage and pride.

Removing Confederate symbols from public buildings often divides residents, and such was no different in Hillsborough.

Commissioner Jenn Weaver’s motion to begin the process to remove the words was voted down.

Other commissioners, including Brian Lowen, the only African-American on the board, wanted more community input before making a decision.

“What we want to consider what is the responsibility for the building and also what we're trying to accomplish,” Mayor Tom Stevens said. “So if we are trying to honor a particular group, that may be one thing, but I think what the museum is talking about is we make it a place that is accessible and open and welcoming to everybody.”

The museum building opened as a “whites only” Confederate memorial library in 1934 and became a county museum in 1982.

Removing the name has been discussed for weeks since a member of the Hillsborough Historical Foundation brought the issue to commissioners.

Some residents want the words to stay.

“If you (remove the words) then you're going to have to go around and change a lot of names on the buildings,” resident Steve Tilley said. “Leave it like it is. It's part of our history. It's not good, but 610,000 people died in the Civil War.”

Stevens did not have a timeline regarding when a decision will be made.

"Obviously it’s very timely now, given what’s happening in our country, in South Carolina and other places that are looking at issues like the flags and what does the Civil War mean, and symbols of the Civil War,” he said.