Removal of the Confederate monument at the Pitt County Courthouse stopped shortly before 5:30 a.m. so streets could reopen and courthouse activities could begin without interference.
The removal work will resume once it's confirmed that a large crane needed to move the monument's pedestal and base is working and the removal doesn't interfere with traffic and court activities.
The bronze statue that tops the 27-foot monument, officially called the Pitt County Confederate Soldiers Monument, was taken down after complications with malfunctioning equipment delayed the process.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Marvin Blount III watched as the work began shortly after midnight.
“I think it is time for the Confederate monument at the Pitt County Courthouse to come down and be placed in a more appropriate location,” Blount said. “I know myself and other judges at the courthouse have strong feelings about any type of monument that is offensive being placed at a courthouse where our public has to come and conduct business.”
Blount said while he doesn’t believe any monument outside a courthouse is reflective of the justice carried out in the building.
“Our judges here in Pitt County work hard to make sure justice is done in all cases and that is done by handling cases one at a time,” he said. Sheriff Paula Dance stood watch with her deputies until the last street barrier was removed.
“The commissioners voted to take this down. It sits on courthouse property, I felt I needed to be here to make sure it was carried out,” she said. “As sheriff, I had a job to do. It’s time and it’s historic to see it happen. I’m happy to know it is going to a place that is much more well-received.”
Dance said she agreed with County Manager Scott Elliott that the monument was becoming a public safety threat.
“Absolutely. When we had the protests to go on, this was an area people gravitated to and it specifically was this statue that was the focal point of that. I think this will alleviate some of that,” Dance said.
The bronze was transported to a secure, monitored location where it will be preserved and stored, along with all other components when they are removed. A relocation committee, appointed by the Pitt County Board of Commissioners will determine its permanent location.
The bronze on the monument is described as a “common soldier” type statue which did not resemble or memorialize any single historical figure or event.
The statue was funded and donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and was dedicated on Nov. 13, 1914, according to a news release from the county’s public information office.
The bronze soldier that stands atop the Confederate statute at the Pitt County Courthouse was removed shortly before 4:45 a.m. Monday after an hours long struggle brought on when an equipment malfunction kept a necessary crane from reaching the site.
The Pitt County Sheriff's Office and Greenville Police Department blocked off sections of Evans and Third streets shortly before 11 p.m. Sunday as a local marble and granite company moved a smaller crane and equipment on site.
County officials scheduled the work late at night so it wouldn't interfere with court business and traffic.
It was also hoped the nighttime work would limit the size of crowds that might gathered. No spectators were seen as night turned into the early morning. Shortly before 11 p.m. a vehicle passed through the intersection of Fourth and Evans Streets playing a Hank Williams Jr. song with the lyrics "If the South woulda won, we woulda had it made/I'd make my Supreme Court down in Texas."
Greenville police officers and members of the sheriff's office special response team patrolled the area and watched from nearby rooftops.
At approximately 12:01 a.m. Monday the crews started putting ladders in place along with maneuvering an electric lift into position. Thirty minutes later a man who arrived at the scene to assist the crane operator, said he was told the crane had an equipment malfunction. The man, who would not share his name, said the crane operator wanted to postpone the work until Monday night.
A short time later County Manager Scott Elliott, County Engineer Tim Corley and other county officials, along with Sheriff Paula Dance and Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman, gathered with company officials.
Employees with the marble and granite company attempted to maneuver a smaller crane and electric lift in an effort to begin removing the bronze statue of a Confederate soldier that tops the 27-foot monument. The pedestal he stands on weighs about 2,500 pounds, which is why a large crane was needed to lift it from its base and place on a truck for transport.
The statue is being removed because the Pitt County Board of Commissioners vote 7-2 on June 15 to remove it from the courthouse and later relocate it. That vote came after an earlier proposal to remove it once a new location was identified failed and Elliott declared it a public safety threat. Elliott said he made the declaration because it has been vandalized with paint, courthouse property has been vandalized, requiring barricade to be erected around the building, flag poles were damaged and a flag was burned in the street beside the monument.
When the contractor could not maneuver the equipment to reach the bronze soldier, a bucket trucked owned by Pitt County was brought in. The statue is located a number of feet from the corner of Evans and Fourth streets and despite being positioned several different ways on both streets, the bucket couldn't reach the statue. A crew member attempted to reach the top using a ladder, but returned to the ground when the ladder appeared to wobble.
County officials were told the crane operator was trying to get a parts supplier to open so repairs could be made to the crane.
Shortly before 3 a.m. it was reported repairs to the crane were underway but it would take at least an hour before the crane could arrive.
After the bronze came down work continued. Elliott said work to remove the statue would continue into the workday hours of Monday, if necessary.