Committee plan for Durham’s toppled Confederate monument draws criticism from commissioner
This story was corrected at 12:57 p.m. Jan. 9, 2019.
A proposal to move part of Durham’s Confederate monument to a historically black, city-owned cemetery offended a county leader Tuesday, who compared it to honoring Nazi soldiers on Jewish burial grounds.
Protesters pulled down the statue outside the old Durham County courthouse building in August 2017. Elected leaders formed a committee to deal with the damaged monument and the stone base, or pedestal, that remains in front of what is now the Durham County Administration Building downtown.
The Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials gave its report to Durham city and county leaders Tuesday morning. It recommends keeping the statue in its crumpled state and moving it to a hallway inside a building, with text explaining its origin and fall. .
But the report also suggests moving the base of the statue — as part of an expanded memorial with public art and language that honors enslaved people and the fight for civil rights — to city-owned cemeteries Maplewood or Beechwood. A state law prohibiting the relocation of monuments would have to change to let that happen.
County Commissioners Vice Chair James Hill said that even considering moving the base to Beechwood, which is historically African American, would be like moving a statue of the Wermacht or the SS to a Jewish cemetery. The Wermacht was the Nazi military.
(An earlier version of this story described the SS incorrectly. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum defines the SS, or Schutzstaffel, as “both the elite guard of the Nazi Reich and Hitler’s executive force prepared to carry out all security-related duties, without regard for legal restraint.”)
“You can’t be serious,” Hill said.
“That is the most offensive thing I’ve heard today,” he said.
City Council member DeDreana Freeman called for the committee to apologize to Hill. She said it was inappropriate to suggest moving the base to Beechwood.
“It is sad that that would even be considered, that you would even say you would want it to be at Beechwood,” Hill said. “There are no Confederate dead at Beechwood, none. I’m sorry. I have to disengage from this conversation.”
The committee spent six months holding community meetings and cataloging all of Durham’s Confederate monuments and “other remnants of the Confederacy or the history of enslavement existing in Durham,” the report says.
▪ Display the damaged statue in its current condition along with interpretive text explaining its origin and history that led to its fall.
▪ Display the statue in a hallway inside the building nearest the statue base, “allow[ing] the county to provide needed security to prevent further damage.”
The County Administration Building is closest to the stone pedestal, which honors the “boys who wore the gray” and has the U.S. and Confederate flags etched on it.
The statue base
▪ Commission a new piece of public art that “incorporates the existing base and recognizes a more holistic understanding of the experience of the Civil War in Durham”
▪ Expand the memorial to recognize and honor enslaved people, “those who worked for a more equal and just society, and the women and children who suffered at home”
▪ Include veterans from Durham who fought for the Union as well as the Confederacy
▪ Add language that puts the base in context, explaining how the statue was erected and torn down
▪ “When legally possible,” relocate the base to Maplewood or Beechwood cemeteries
The Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials is co-chaired by Charmaine McKissick-Melton and Robin Kirk, professors at N.C. Central University and Duke University, respectively. There are another 10 members, all appointed by the city and county. The report is the consensus of all 12 committee members.
Kirk said they want to display the statue inside a building hallway so those who want to see it can, but others, including county employees, do not have to walk by it every day.
Since the downtown statue came down, Duke University has removed a statue of Robert E. Lee from Duke Chapel and agreed to rename a building named for Julian Carr, the white supremacist and philanthropist who donated land for the Duke campus. And at UNC-Chapel Hill, protesters tore down the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue in August 2018.
Other Confederate remnants
▪ Leave Bennett Place and Confederate graves alone.
The committee wrote that Bennett Place, a state historic site and location of the largest surrender of the Civil War, along with Confederate soldier graves, should not be disturbed.
▪ Change the words on the Julian S. Carr state highway historical marker on West Chapel Hill Street.
The committee recommends the city petition the N.C. Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee to add information about Carr’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan and his white supremacist views and activities.
“Carr’s role in early Durham history is pivotal,” the committee wrote, yet his membership in the Ku Klux Klan and his support for white supremacy had gone largely unacknowledged until the recent debate over the Silent Sam Confederate statue.
The report also recommends new works of public art and memorials to honor such people and events as:
▪ Pauli Murray, the Episcopal saint and activist who grew up in Durham
▪ Chuck Davis, founder of the African American Dance Ensemble
▪ Floyd McKissick Sr., civil rights attorney
▪ Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, co-chairs of Save Our Schools summit on desegregating Durham schools
▪ Tobacco, mill and agricultural workers
▪ Native Americans
▪ Enslaved people
▪ Women leaders
▪ Black Wall Street founders
▪ LGBTQ leaders and community members
▪ Hayti community
▪ Royal Ice Cream Parlor sit-in
▪ Labor organizers
Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said it’s up to the county commissioners to decide what to do, but that City Council members will “offer our free advice to you.”
Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said the only part of the report that gives her pause is the call to add public art to the monument’s base. State law prohibits alterations to monuments, she said, so she wants the city and county attorneys to advise them.
Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs said the report shows Durham can come together. “Durham has demonstrated that we must face up to our history and legacy of white supremacy that has impacted our daily lives,” she said.
Hill said he does not want any taxpayer money used for the statue or its base, unless it is to move them to someplace like Bennett Place or Maplewood Cemetery.
If the state law changes, Hill said that the Daughters of the Confederacy could take the statue back, as it offered to do with statues in Chapel Hill and in Winston-Salem.
Hill does not want the County Administration Building to house the crumpled statue.
“This is an office building, not a museum. We do not have the ability to handle artifacts,” he said. “Find another place. Not in the building. It sounds eerily similar to what they wanted to do with Silent Sam.”
William O’Quinn, who is in Sons of Confederate Veterans and served on the monuments committee, said he agreed with the report overall except for moving the monument base. He does not want to add public art to it.
O’Quinn and the Sons of Confederate Veterans group also don’t want to put the crumpled statue back on display, he said.
“I’m not too happy with it, but I can see how it would be helpful to explain to future residents of the town what happened,” O’Quinn said about the recommended display.
“We do realize if the statue was put up [again], there’s probably a good chance it would be torn down again,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the Durham Sons of Confederate Veterans released a statement on the report, calling it a reward to the protesters.
“Durham County now is going to reward the mob’s verdict by refusing to repair and replace the statue according to the law, even though there is insurance money to pay for it. Further, the crumpled metal, like some kind of perverse trophy for illegal behavior, will be ‘contextualized’ with historical inaccuracies and lies about its meaning and origin. This is a strange world indeed,” they wrote.
Jacobs said there is no timeline for the county’s decision. The statue is in storage in Durham, she said. The commissioners will wait for the city and county attorneys and managers to make recommendations for what can legally be done, she said.
This story was corrected to include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s definition of the Nazi SS.