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BLM billboard leaving Confederate flag site in Pittsboro. Raleigh billboard going up.

Herald-Sun - 8/13/2020

Aug. 12--As one Black Lives Matter billboard is coming down in Pittsboro, another is going up in Raleigh, says a social-justice advocate involved in both projects.

Kerwin Pittman, founder of the nonprofit Recidivism Reduction Educational Program Services Inc. (RREPS), said he's not surprised the Pittsboro billboard erected last month next to a Confederate flag on U.S. 64 Business didn't last long.

The contract with Lamar Advertising Co. was supposed to be for a full year, until next July, but Sam White, the owner of the Confederate flag, didn't want the black billboard with the white letters spelling "Black Lives Matter" on his land.

White is ending his land lease with billboard owner Lamar Advertising after almost 16 years. The lease expires Aug. 31, he said.

"I told them the 31st of August that sign better be gone, because Sept. 1, if that sign's not down, they're going to hear my chainsaw running," White said in an interview with The News & Observer.

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Pittsboro residents behind the billboard campaign are planning how to use the refund. That could include buying Black Lives Matter yard signs to distribute around Pittsboro and supporting racial equity work, according to a post on the GoFundMe page.

The group already has donated $1,000 to Emancipate NC, which with RREPS sponsored the billboard, and to Chatham Organizing for Racial Equality for a scholarship focused on racial equity organizing.

The focus for RREPS and Emancipate NC is a new Black Lives Matter billboard going up this week on Tryon Road near the Wake County Detention Center in Raleigh. A separate GoFundMe campaign has raised $595 so far, which will keep the billboard up for 28 days, Pittman said.

"It was a high-volume traffic area, as well as it is around the corner from Wake County's jail, and we know Black and brown people are disproportionately represented in that jail," he said.

Pittman noted that the Pittsboro billboard, even if it's coming down, still represents a victory.

"Overall, this is still a win-win, because the individuals and the citizens of Pittsboro were able to display the real message of how the majority of the individuals in Pittsboro feel, that Black lives do matter," Pittman said. "And yet, there is a select few in that town who still exalt the ideology of racism and hatred and bigotry."

Southern heritage vs. hate

White, a Pittsboro native and former high school drama teacher and coach, said he raised the Confederate flag last year to protest the county's decision to remove a Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn.

He was offended by "this Haitian transplant that comes here and sides with the Yankees to move things away," White said. Chatham County Commissioner Karen Howard is a native of the Bahamas.

Lamar Advertising, which had leased his land for roughly 16 years, offered him $2,000 a month to keep the Black Lives Matter message up, he said. He turned them down, but they put the message up anyway.

"Some things are more important than money," White said. "Honor, integrity, heritage -- I think all of those things are important. I would classify your religion as most important of all."

White is no stranger to Pittsboro's Confederate statue demonstrations, which have gone on for more than a year.

In October after driving a backhoe into the middle of a protest, the 82-year-old was charged with operating a vehicle that wasn't registered, inspected or covered by insurance, the Chatham News and Record reported.

White said he was driving the backhoe that day to property he owns just south of the protest, where he planned to clean up some trash. After protesters blocked his way, Pittsboro police told him to go home, he said. He did, and then put Confederate flags on the backhoe and returned to join the statue supporters.

White said the people calling him a racist don't know his heart, what he has done to help others, or about his ancestors who settled this part of North Carolina hundreds of years ago.

"The flag is not about hate or division. The flag is about our Southern heritage," White said.

Effort to say Black Lives Matter

Others say Southern heritage is more than the Civil War, and that the Confederate flag and other emblems of white supremacy no longer belong in the community.

White supremacist groups from across the state and elsewhere have come to Pittsboro to join the protests, often outnumbering local residents protesting the statue's removal and at times leading to skirmishes and arrests.

Pittsboro residents behind the billboard said they wanted to counter that message.

"Those confederate flags do NOT represent who we are as a community. It is important for us now more than ever as a community to show our support for #BLACKLIVESMATTER, with that message on a billboard that is counter to the confederate flags next to it," organizers wrote in a GoFundMe post.

The campaign raised $10,940 within a few days.

Pittman said he's attended some of the Pittsboro protests and thinks continuing to have visible reminders that Black Lives Matter is "extremely important."

"Counter protesters always say 'All Lives Matter,' but all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. That is the irony in that statement," Pittman said. "That is why it's important for people to push the narrative that Black lives do matter, not only for individuals who are out here, but for future generations as well."

Staff writer Simone Jasper contributed to this story.


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