On Wednesday morning, the N.C. Historical Commission voted in favor of a resolution not to remove or relocate three Confederate statues in Raleigh’s Capitol Square.
In a response to Gov. Roy Cooper’s petition to relocate the three Confederate monuments to Bentonville Battlefield — a Civil War site — the committee passed a resolution in a 3-2 vote acknowledging the statues could not be removed or replaced. The resolution was subsequently passed by the full commission 9-2. The Commission also passed a resolution to add plaques contextualizing slavery’s role in the Civil War and recommended the addition of monuments recognizing African Americans.
Six petitions to relocate Silent Sam were anonymously filed to the committee, but Chairperson David Ruffin dismissed them.
Although the commission can recommend that a particular action be taken, the final decision is ultimately up to the General Assembly.
Commissioners Noah Reynolds and Valerie Johnson voted against the Capitol Square amendment, saying the monuments’ oppressive symbolism did not reflect North Carolina and should be relocated.
“We cannot afford the divisive, exclusionary, racist practices of a few to be what defines North Carolina,” Johnson said. “That will be our legacy if these statues and plaques uplifting the Confederacy remain in place.”
Samuel Dixon, a capital trial lawyer and committee member, voted in favor of the resolution to keep the Confederate statues, saying he was unwilling to disregard North Carolina state law. In 2015, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill effectively banning the permanent removal or relocation of state monuments.
“The beautiful thing about living in North Carolina and in this country is that if we don’t like laws, we can lobby the General Assembly to change those laws," Dixon said. "There’s an avenue that this law could be changed if that’s the will of the people.”
Reynolds said he would have preferred if Gov. Cooper’s request was resolved by the General Assembly instead of the appointed Historical Commission but said his hand was forced by the state’s unwillingness to weaken the 2015 legislation.
“The persistent inaction, inflexibility and insensitivity of our General Assembly to the true social history of all of the people of our state has caused me to act," he said.
Reynolds said the UNC-system Board of Governors displayed similar inaction last month, which he suggested was partly responsible for Monday night’s toppling of Silent Sam.
“The people of our state deserve an answer," he said. "And the inability to decide or even to act on the issue of Confederate monuments at the July 28th meeting of the UNC Board of Governors may have unfortunately and inadvertently contributed to the unlawful destruction of property that we witnessed this week when protesters pulled down the statue of Silent Sam in Chapel Hill."
Chairperson David Ruffin dismissed petitions to consider Silent Sam during the hearing, saying a petition to remove or relocate its pedestal would have to come from the UNC administration or the BOG.
The committee also passed a resolution to add plaques near the three Confederate monuments in Capitol Square in order to contextualize that slavery was a cause of the Civil War.
“Based upon the law we have today, I do not think we can move them, but we can tell a better story, a full and inclusive story,” Dixon said.
A third resolution to build a monument honoring African-American contributions to North Carolina was also adopted by the committee on a 4-1 vote. Johnson voted against the resolution after her proposed amendment to add women and Native American monuments was rejected.
"It is in its diversity of its people that North Carolina realized its richness," Johnson said. "Let this be our legacy — one of inclusion, truth and courage."
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