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The spot where Robert E. Lee statue once stood at Duke Chapel will remain vacant

Visitors to Duke Chapel react to damage on a statue of Robert E. Lee

Video: Vandals struck the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee outside Duke Chapel on Duke University’s campus sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday Aug. 17, 2016.
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Video: Vandals struck the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee outside Duke Chapel on Duke University’s campus sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday Aug. 17, 2016.

Almost a year to the day after the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed from Duke Chapel in the middle of the night, Duke’s president announced the space will remain vacant.

Thursday, Duke President Vincent Price said the space will stay unoccupied to “provide a powerful statement about the past, the present and our values.”

In a message published on the Duke University website, Price said the campus has had a year to reflect since the violent clash between white nationalists and protesters in Charlottesville, Va.

“We have also begun the process of respectfully and openly engaging with one another toward building a more inclusive future for our university, nation and the world,” Price wrote.

Price ordered Lee’s statue removed Aug. 19, from the front of the historic chapel, the centerpiece of the Durham campus, where it had stood since 1932.

His order came days after vandals had attacked the statue, chipping away parts of Lee’s face and all of his nose, and one day after hundreds gathered in Durham to head off an expected Ku Klux Klan march that did not materialize.

At the time, Price said he acted to protect those who worship in the chapel.

The removal left a vacant space at the chapel’s entrance, where Lee had stood between two other Southern figures: Thomas Jefferson and Sidney Lanier, a poet and musician.

Following his decision, Price convened the Commission on Memory and History to recommend a replacement and discuss larger issues of memorials on campus.

He wrote that he heard many names of people nominated to fill the niche in the form of another statue.

But, Price wrote, the Rev. Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, presented the idea of leaving it empty to represent “a hole that is in the heart of the United States of America, and perhaps in our own human hearts — that hole that is from the sin of racism and hatred of any kind.”

Price said he agreed with the idea and said a plaque explaining the context of Lee’s absence will be placed in the chapel foyer.

In Price’s message, he said he will make three recommendations:

find a location and form to recognize “those individuals whose labor was the foundation of the wealth that created Duke University and whose hands built our campus.”

find a place to honor the first black students to attend Duke.

set up rotating exhibits on Duke’s history.

“As we begin this new semester,” Price wrote, “I hope these actions will help us build on the work of faculty, students, staff, and administrators who responded to the challenge of last August by learning, debating, and advocating for Duke to more fully live up to its values.”

The Lee statue proved controversial, even when erected in the early 1930s alongside prominent figures from Methodism and the American South, according to a historical piece published last year in Duke Today, the university’s news site.

That story described Duke officials’ dismay that the sculpture bore a poor likeness to the Virginian general, and that his belt buckle said “U.S.”

Meanwhile, a state committee will meet Aug. 22 to discuss recommendations for relocating three Confederate monuments at the state Capitol grounds in Raleigh.

The commission also may discuss the Silent Sam monument at UNC, according to a news release from the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. But while the commission has heard from people who would like to relocate the polarizing statue from campus, it “has not received a petition from the university, the UNC system, or its governing body, the Board of Governors,” the release said. As such, the commission doesn’t have plans to discuss relocating the statue Wednesday, the release said.

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08
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