On Feb. 12, the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities (NC CRED) launched an initiative to have all Confederate monuments removed from courthouse grounds across the state.
As part of the campaign, NC CRED will create and maintain a website to provide information on Confederate monuments in the state, work in coalitions to empower local communities to remove monuments through legislation and compile an accurate history of these monuments.
James Williams, Jr., chairperson of NC CRED, said the organization’s mission is to analyze the racial and ethnic inequities in the court system, and recommend ways people and stakeholders can work together to reduce the discrepancies.
In July 2015, just over a month after a race-based shooting inside Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church left nine African Americans dead, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed an act that banned the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials.
Williams said NC CRED issued a resolution in 2017 calling on the state legislature to repeal that act, but didn’t get much of a response.
“But certainly, there was nothing that happened between 2017 and 2020 to lessen our interest in the removal of those monuments,” Williams added.
The divisive nature of Confederate symbols and monuments has only been amplified since the Charleston killings. The 2020 deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd ignited a wave of protests across the country, resulting in Confederate memorials being pulled down or defaced by protestors, including in the Triangle area.
NC CRED renewed its efforts in April 2020 by presenting a letter to North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, calling for a portrait of Thomas Ruffin, a former North Carolina chief justice and defender of slavery, to be removed from the courtroom. The portrait, along with a statue of Ruffin that stood outside the North Carolina Court of Appeals, was later removed.
To many, these memorials are material vestiges of a culture of white supremacy, while other groups denounced these actions as tantamount to erasing southern history and heritage.
Karen Cox, professor of history at UNC-Charlotte and a supporting historian for NC CRED, is well aware of those arguments. Cox said "Whites Only" signs were removed, but people still know about the history of Jim Crow.
“It’s white heritage,” she added. “It’s not the heritage of all North Carolinians. It is a heritage tied to the Confederacy and a war that was fought to perpetuate human slavery.”
Mark Dorosin, a civil rights lawyer and Orange County commissioner, is a supporting attorney for NC CRED. Dorosin said the November 2019 removal of Confederate statue in Pittsboro is an example of how NC CRED might circumvent legal blockades, such as the 2015 law.
“In that case it was determined… that the county didn’t actually own the monuments," Dorosin said. "They had just given the United Daughters of the Confederacy a license to put their monument on county property."
He said they argued that the 2015 law did not apply because the county never owned the statue.
"So, the commissioners were able – by a vote – to take the monument down,” Dorosin said.
Williams said the campaign's next step is to support local efforts to remove Confederate monuments by providing information and guidance to interested communities.
"Residents will be impacted by these removals because it will help to create more racially inclusive and equitable communities," he said.
He added that the campaign will provide educational opportunities for the public to learn the truth about symbols of racial hatred and white supremacy, why they were erected and why they should come down.
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