Remove or Preserve

In Buzz, September 2017 by Jane Porter

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Like many Southern cities, Raleigh has a Civil War legacy to grapple with. 

It wasn’t long before shockwaves from the violence that erupted in Charlottesville last month were felt here in the Triangle. A day after white supremacists—protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee—clashed with counter-protestors, activists took to the streets and toppled a bronze statue that has stood before Durham’s courthouse since 1924.  

Governor Roy Cooper condemned the Charlottesville violence but, regarding Durham, said there’s “a better way” to get rid of Confederate monuments on public property. 

“Conversations about race and our past are never easy,” Cooper said in a statement. “But we must do what we know is right, and we must do it the right way.”  

In Raleigh, there are six statues and monuments memorializing the Confederacy. Three, including a 75-foot-tall monument to fallen Confederate soldiers, are located on the State Capitol grounds and three are located in the Historic Oakwood Cemetery, privately held land where more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers are buried. Monuments at both locations have been vandalized recently.  

Though the controversy over Confederate monuments has re-emerged in a highly polarized national political climate, leaders at the state and local levels are increasingly getting involved, removing monuments and banning the Confederate flag in their cities and states—or steadfastly refusing to. 

In Raleigh, attorney Charles Francis, the Democratic candidate for mayor, seems to agree with Cooper’s call for removal.   

“Now is the time for all southerners and all Americans to speak and act forcefully against monuments to terror…,” Francis wrote in a statement on his campaign website. “Raleigh must lead in diversity and inclusion and standing against hate…Tweet. Write. Attack the disparities the Confederate monuments represent…Organize. Mentor a child. Vote. As a city and nation, we are better, and we can do better.” 

The Republican contender in the three-way race for mayor, Paul Fitts, doesn’t agree with removing the statues, though he says that, if elected, he would never allow “two frothing groups of people that close to each other.”   

In an email, Fitts said he agrees with the slippery slope argument President Trump made to reporters. 

“Where does this end?,” Fitts wrote. “Do we just remove Civil War monuments or do we go after all slave owners…George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slave owners…When do we remove them from Mount Rushmore…When do we change the names of cities, towns, counties and states that bear the names of these people?” 

Mayor Nancy McFarlane has not addressed Confederate monuments specifically and her office did not respond to multiple inquiries about whether she agrees with Gov. Cooper’s call to remove Confederate monuments before our deadline.  

On her official Facebook page, however, the mayor also condemned the violence in Charlottesville.  

“…let this tragedy be a defining moment in this tumultuous time in our history,” McFarlane wrote. “Past Americans fought Nazism, white supremacy, and the hate and violence that both embody. Many of our parents were part of that fight and we must be as well. It would dishonor their sacrifice to not stand up and take this moment to let future generations know that ‘enough is enough.’” 

Gov. Cooper called on the legislature to repeal a 2015 law that prohibits removal or relocation of Confederate monuments. He directed his Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to study the cost and logistics of removing monuments from public property, statewide, and to look at replacing them in museums and at historical sites.  

But with Republicans in gerrymandered districts controlling both chambers of the General Assembly—Senate leader Phil Berger called removing Confederate statues a “fool’s errand” that “erases history—” it seems unlikely that North Carolina’s leaders, or its people, will agree on “a better way” to address the monuments any time soon.  

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