Confederate Monuments Will Remain at N.C. Capitol, With Added Context

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina historical commission decided Wednesday that three Confederate monuments will remain on the state Capitol grounds with newly added context about slavery and civil rights, weighing in less than two days after another rebel statue was torn down by protesters at the state’s flagship university.

The state Historical Commission was responding to a request by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to move the 20th-century monuments from the Capitol.

The commission voted 10-1 to reinterpret the three monuments by adding more information about slavery. It urged construction of a memorial to black citizens as soon as possible. The group of academic and amateur historians also recognized that monuments on the Capitol grounds are imbalanced toward the Civil War and the Confederacy.

Cooper responded with a statement decrying a law passed in 2015 by the GOP-controlled state legislature that sharply restricts where state and local government officials can relocate such memorials and all but bars their permanent removal. He also said the toppling of the Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” on Monday night at the University of North Carolina was an example of what happens when people feel their leaders won’t act on their concerns.

“The actions that toppled Silent Sam bear witness to the strong feelings many North Carolinians have about Confederate monuments. I don’t agree with or condone the way that monument came down, but protesters concluded that their leaders would not – could not–act on the frustration and pain it caused,” Cooper said.

Commission member Samuel Dixon said that the 2015 law limited what the commission could do.

“I believe the monuments need to tell the truth and based upon the law that we have today I do not think we can move them,” said Dixon, an Edenton lawyer. “But I think we can … tell a better story and tell a full an inclusive story.” Dixon voted with the majority.

But commission member and Bennett College professor Valerie Johnson, who is black, said removal would be appropriate because of the Confederate monuments’ links to the Jim Crow era. She lamented the lack of diversity on the grounds where the 1840 state Capitol sits.

“The monuments represent the commitment of North Carolina to uphold the Confederacy. These monuments are a continual visual presence of the ideology of white supremacy,” said Johnson, who voted against portions of the commission resolution. “Removal is not erasure. It is creating a space that reflects all North Carolinians and their contributions to our state.”

One woman who interrupted the meeting by shouting was escorted out and put in a police car. It wasn’t immediately clear what charges she could face.

Frank Powell, spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in North Carolina, couldn’t say whether the group would support re-interpretation of the monuments because he doesn’t know what it would entail.

Each of three monuments on the Capitol grounds was erected decades after the end of the Civil War: the Capitol Confederate Monument, dedicated in May 1895; the Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument, dedicated in June 1912; and the North Carolina Confederacy Monument, dedicated in June 1914.

Cooper had asked last September that the three statues be moved to the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site located in Four Oaks, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) away from the Capitol. His request followed a violent white nationalist rally over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the toppling of a Confederate statue outside a Durham County government building by demonstrators.

The commission’s vote came about 36 hours after the “Silent Sam” statue was toppled on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus. The bronze figure of an anonymous soldier was pulled down from its stone pedestal by protesters who used banners to mask their action.

The statue, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913, had been under constant, costly police surveillance after being vandalized in recent months. Many students, faculty and alumni argued that “Silent Sam” symbolized racism and asked officials to take it down.

The state attorney general’s office wrote in May that the commission can order that the monuments be moved, provided the move meets several criteria, including that relocation is necessary to preserve them. The commission would have had to find that the new site is of similar prominence, honor, visibility and availability, the letter said. The letter said the monuments may be reinterpreted, but they can’t be altered in that process.