The new president of Duke University has ordered the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee after it was vandalized earlier this week.
“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” President Vincent Price said in a statement released Saturday morning.
“The removal also presents an opportunity for us to learn and heal,” Price said, adding that the statue will be preserved so students “can study Duke’s complex past and take part in a more inclusive future.”
“Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” he contnued. “We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.”
Price’s announcement followed a day of tension in Durham as hundreds of people gathered downtown in expectation of a march by the KKK or other white supremacist groups. The march did not happen, but the Sheriff’s Office had alerted comunity leaders to the possibility based on information it had gathered throughout the week. One man was arrested late in the day during a standoff in the street between police and a group of 50 to 75 protesters carrying anti-racist signs.
In Chapel Hill, Mayor Pam Hemminger wrote to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt on Thursday, asking her to petition the state’s historical commission to have the statue of a Confederate soldier known as Silent Sam removed from McCorkle Place off Franklin Street and placed in storage.
Hemminger cited the toppling of a statue in downtown Durham and the damage to the Lee statue at Duke Chapel, saying “the statue presents a danger to students on campus and the Chapel Hill community.”
In his statement, Price said he is creating a commission “to assist us in navigating the role of memory and history at Duke.”
“The commission will look at how we memorialize individuals on the Duke campus in buildings and sculpture and recommend principles drawn from Duke’s core values to guide us when questions arise,” he said.
“In addition, and in concert with Provost Sally Kornbluth, we will use the next year to explore various aspects of Duke's history and ambitions through teaching and scholarship. This will include an exhibition in the Library; a campus conversation about controversy and injustice in Duke’s history; and a forum to explore academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly in the university. Further information about these programs will be forthcoming.”
“As this process moves forward, I welcome your thoughts about how Duke can best address the troubling events of the past few months, learn from a careful and unvarnished understanding of our national and institutional history, and build a stronger, more inclusive future as a university community.”
Mark Schultz: 919-829-8950; HeraldSunEditor