With a new Capitol monument in the works, who is honored there now?
Schoolchildren are the most frequent visitors to the state Capitol grounds in downtown Raleigh, and so they are the target audience for a planned monument to African Americans in North Carolina, according to the state.
What those children see now when they visit is nearly all white men depicted in bronze and stone.
The Capitol grounds features several monuments and memorials to North Carolinians. The majority of statues represent leaders from a time when the state’s African American population was enslaved or oppressed. Efforts to move three Confederate monuments have failed.
But soon that public face of the state is likely to change.
After several years of discussion but no money allocated, $2.5 million is set aside in this year’s state budget proposals for an African American monument on the Capitol grounds.
That amount of money was recommended in Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget he released this spring, and it was repeated in the House and Senate budgets. The funding hasn’t been controversial this session. Senate leader Phil Berger said he and other legislative leaders kept the promise they made last year to fund a monument honoring the contributions of African Americans.
N.C. Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue said in a recent interview that he’d like to see the new monument include the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which he noted was boosted in Raleigh with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. SNCC was founded at Shaw University in 1960.
Blue said the monument should also show the Greensboro Four, the four N.C. A&T State University students whose sit-in at the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter galvanized the sit-in movement across the country.
“There are many instances of not just black history, but American history, that moved us further down the road as a nation,” Blue said.
While the monument is only in the early planning stages, according to the state, some details are already set based on previous recommendations.
What the African American monument could be
According to the state’s most recent report, the target audience for the monument should be schoolchildren, as they are a major segment of Capitol visitors.
Other recommendations for the monument:
▪ Encapsulate the African American experience in North Carolina.
▪ Historical and commemorative.
▪ Complement other monuments.
▪ Grounded in North Carolina history.
▪ Central element of the monument will be on the southeast corner of Union Square because of vacant space there as well as proximity to historically African American Southeast Raleigh.
▪ Bas relief timeline on the small hill adjacent to the Wilmington Street sidewalk. Bas relief is slightly raised images off a flat surface. The monument could stand on multiple elevations on the grounds.
▪ Bronze and granite materials, like all the other monuments.
▪ No fire or water elements.
▪ All periods of history depicted, including slavery and Jim Crow, as well as achievements.
The recommendations followed meetings of the N.C. Historical Commission and N.C. African American Heritage Commission, a monument study committee and community meetings. An N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources spokesperson said the project is still in the early planning stages.
At a hearing at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro in 2016, museum co-founder Earl Jones said the project should be a nonpartisan issue and include African American participation in the Revolutionary War and Civil War. At another public meeting that year held at Fayetteville State University, community members suggested the monument include the state’s HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities.
The Capitol grounds, known as Union Square, won’t be the only downtown block getting tributes to African Americans.
Freedom Park at Wilmington and Lane streets is also set to receive $1.5 million in the budget. It will celebrate “freedom and the African American experience,” and is designed by the late architect Phil Freelon and Perkins+Will architecture firm. It also has received private funding, The News & Observer previously reported. If the park reaches its $5 million fundraising goal, it could open in 2020, according to its website.
Who the Capitol monuments represent
The majority of statues and memorials on the grounds are related to the Confederacy or of people who owned slaves.
The Vietnam War memorial shows three soldiers, one of whom is African American, according to the state, though there’s no reference to the soldier’s race at the site.
The only women are “Confederate women” depicted by a seated woman, and “Lady Liberty” holding a tobacco leaf atop the large memorial to World War I, World War II and the Korean War. However, women funded at least one monument — the Old Hickory Highway stone honoring World War I veterans.
The state Historical Commission voted to let the three Confederate memorials remain on the grounds. But there are more than just three references to the Confederacy, the name for Southern states that seceded from the United States and were defeated in the Civil War along with slavery.
Blue wants the Confederate monuments moved to Bentonville Battlefield in Johnston County, “because that puts it totally in context, [the Civil War being] about revolting against the established government of the United States.”
“You can teach about these things, and learn in context so you can understand them instead of idolizing slave owners and supremacists,” Blue said.
The Capitol building itself is used mainly for ceremonies, as the General Assembly meets a block away in the Legislative Building at the other end of Centennial Plaza. Some of the governor’s staff also works there.
Statues of Confederates and slave owners
The three roads that dead-end at Union Square are met with statues of Confederate soldiers, as well as President George Washington and the three presidents claimed by North Carolina — James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson. Washington, Polk, Jackson and Johnson were all slave owners.
The Capitol includes monuments to two governors — Zebulon Baird Vance and Charles Aycock.
Vance was a Confederate officer and a slave owner. Aycock’s family were also slave owners, and Aycock campaigned in the late 1890s on a white supremacy platform.
A law passed under former Gov. Pat McCrory restricts moving Confederate statues on government-owned property.
Within the past two years, protesters in Durham and Chapel Hill tore down Confederate soldier monuments there — one in front of the Durham County Administration Building and the other, Silent Sam, on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. The Durham statue was removed soon after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The crumpled statue is in storage and the base remains in downtown Durham in front of the building, a former courthouse. Silent Sam’s base was removed from campus.
Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said keeping the Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds while adding an African American one doesn’t mean the conversation is over.
“Let’s put a statue — we’ll call it a bribe, if you will — to honor them, and we’ll leave the Confederate monuments alone? At least two were dedicated in the 20th century. They realized we need to honor these folks decades after the war? ... This was about codifying white supremacy and making sure black folk know they are put in their place,” Middleton said.
He said a new monument, which he described as appeasement, won’t end the conversation about Confederate monuments.
What’s on the state Capitol grounds now
▪ Confederate Soldiers Monument: At 75 feet high, this is the tallest monument on the grounds. A Confederate soldier statue tops an obelisk. On two sides of the base, two more Confederate soldiers statues stand. Below that are two cannons. The monument is close to the sidewalk, easily viewable from Hillsborough Street before it dead-ends at the Capitol. It was dedicated May 20, 1895.
▪ World War II, Korean War, World War I Monument: This memorial dedicated in 1990 is inside a circular drive and facing Centennial Plaza and Edenton Street. It includes a large base, bronze plaques with raised images depicting the three wars, several columns with the tallest column topped by “Lady Liberty” holding a tobacco leaf.
▪ Presidents North Carolina Gave the Nation: Andrew Jackson is riding a horse, with James K. Polk seated in front on him on the left and Andrew Johnson seated in front of him on the right. Two cannons flank a brick sidewalk leading out to the street. The sculptor was Charles Keck of New York.
President Harry S. Truman came to Raleigh for the 1948 dedication and gave a speech. Descendants of Jackson, Polk and Johnson attended. Truman arrived via a parade up Fayetteville Street.
In Truman’s speech about them, he said that “a monument that points only to the past is at best half a monument.”
▪ North Carolina Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Dedicated on May 23, 1987, the monument features three soldiers in a scene called “After the Firefight.” Two soldiers carry a wounded fellow soldier. The designer was Abbe Godwin of Colfax, the first woman sculptor of a Capitol grounds monument. According to the state, it honors the more than 206,000 men and women from North Carolina who served in the Vietnam War.
▪ Charles Aycock: Former state senator and governor. The statue was unveiled March 13, 1924.
▪ Zebulon Vance: Former governor of North Carolina and U.S. senator. It faces the Aycock statue after being relocated in 1949 from a pedestal elsewhere on the Capitol grounds to make room for the N.C. presidents monument.
▪ Confederate Women’s Monument: Dedicated June 10, 1914. The monument is a scene of a seated woman and a child — a boy holding a sword. It faces the street, and has two stone benches facing each other, flanking the monument. It was donated by Ashley Horne, a Confederate veteran and one-term state senator.
▪ U.S. Navy Ensign Worth Bagley: First to fall during the Spanish-American War in 1898. A U.S. Navy ensign, he was killed in action at Cardenas on May 11, 1898. Bagley is depicted standing, in uniform, sword by his side and hat in hand. It was made by Roman Bronze Works in New York, according to the statue base.
▪ Henry Lawson Wyatt: First of North Carolina Confederate volunteer soldiers to be killed in battle during the Civil War. The Edgecombe County native was killed at the battle at Bethel Church in Virginia on June 10, 1861. The statue of Wyatt depicts him standing, leaning forward and holding his gun across the front of his body. The statue was dedicated on June 10, 1912, according to the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, which keeps a list of state Civil War monuments.
▪ Charles Duncan McIver: Statue shows McIver standing and holding a book. He was the first president of what is now UNC Greensboro.
▪ Samuel Ashe Monument: Ashe is memorialized not by a statue, but rather a large horizontal rectangle with a bronze plaque showing his face, U.S. and Confederate flags and a paragraph describing him. Ashe was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War and went on to become a historian, legislator and newspaper editor. He died in 1938. It was unveiled on Sept. 13, 1940, which would have been his 100th birthday.
▪ World War I soldiers: Stone block inscribed “In Memory of the 81st or Wildcat Division. World War 1917-18” on the southwest corner of the block, facing South Salisbury Street. The memorial of the 81st National Army Division, also known as Wildcats, was dedicated in 1942.
▪ World War I soldiers: Stone block facing Edenton Street, inscribed “Old Hickory Highway” in memory of those who served in the Great War. Made of granite and dedicated in 1930, it was sponsored by War Mothers of North Carolina. According to NCPedia, the monument is to the U.S. Army 30th Division during World War I, which was nicknamed “Old Hickory” in honor of Andrew Jackson. The monument also dedicated the old NC Highway 10 to the 30th Division.
NCPedia is a project of the State Library of North Carolina, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and others.
▪ Geodetic survey stones: On the southeast corner are three vertical survey stone blocks placed in 1853-1854 to measure the longitude and latitude of Raleigh. A Surveyors Historical Society National Register marker was placed there in 1993.
The Capitol grounds also features two fountains, lamp posts, brick walkways, sidewalks, benches, a variety of trees including magnolias and oaks, and plenty of squirrels.