As Confederate monuments have been knocked down, destroyed, or removed across the country, leaving some communities to wrestle with what to do with remaining statues, North Carolina has decided to keep three such monuments on display at the state capitol.
The decision came two days after 250 protesters knocked over the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus.
A resolution adopted Wednesday by the North Carolina Historical Commission said the monuments are “an over-representation and over-memorialization of a difficult era in (North Carolina’s) history.” But the commission said it doesn’t have the legal authority to recommend their removal or relocation.
Citing a state law implemented in 2015, the commission said it is “unable to recommend the removal or relocation of the three Confederate monuments because removal or relocation is not required to preserve” them. The monuments — to the Confederate Dead of North Carolina, Henry Lawson Wyatt who was the first Confederate soldier killed during the Civil War, and the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy — currently stand at the state capitol in Raleigh.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had asked the state commission to relocate the statues to a nearby Civil War battlefield to preserve them. Cooper’s request was made in the wake of last year’s Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left a woman dead. More than 4,700 people submitted public comments to the commission on the topic.
The commission voted 10-1 to add additional signage and historical facts adjacent to the monuments to “present a fair and more accurate” explanation of the Civil War and its aftermath, including an explanation of the struggles African Americans endured in North Carolina as they fought for civil rights and social justice.
The resolution also recommends that the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources plan, design, and raise funds to help construct monuments to memorialize the accomplishments and contributions of the state’s African Americans.
The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has not responded to a request for comment.
Following the vote, Cooper encouraged North Carolina residents to petition legislators to change the law now barring the monuments’ removal.
“It is time for North Carolina to realize that we can document and learn from our history without idolizing painful symbols,” Cooper said in a statement. “The General Assembly needs to change its 2015 law so our state and its people have a better path to remove or relocate these monuments safely.”
Cooper pointed to the toppling of Silent Sam as a sign that North Carolinians do not want 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. “I acknowledge, too, those who believe these monuments should stay as they are because they symbolize our history. But they are just one part of our history. North Carolina is welcoming to all, and our most prominent public places should reflect that.”