Under the Dome

Commission moves swiftly to postpone decision on Confederate monuments

The state commission considering the fate of Confederate monuments on Capitol Square put off until April a decision on whether the statues should be moved to a Civil War battlefield.

The NC Historical Commission voted 9-1 Friday to postpone action on the request to move the monuments 46 miles to Bentonfield Battlefield in Johnston County because members wanted more time to gather legal options on a 2015 monuments law and issues related to relocation.

The law requires approval from the Historical Commission to relocate monuments, but some have described the law as vague.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced soon after the violent white supremacists rally in Charlottesville and after a crowd toppled a Confederate monument in Durham that he would seek to move Confederate monuments that sit on state property to places where they can studied in context. The petition to move the monuments came from his Department of Administration, which said “time is of the essence in ruling on the petition and proceeding with the project.”

The commission, however, was committed to moving slowly and carefully.

“This kind of decision that we’re being asked to make is a precedent-setting decision,” said Mary Lynn Bryan of Fayetteville, who was sitting in as chairwoman. “Really, we’re not used to, as a body, having issues that are this deep and this problematic coming before us in such a short period of time without having the opportunity to look carefully at the ramifications of what we’re doing.”

David Dennard, a historian at ECU, was the only dissenting vote. He objected to the lack of discussion before the decision to postpone action.

The Cooper administration wants to move the 1895 Confederate Monument, the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy statue and the Henry Lawson Wyatt monument, which depicts the first Confederate soldier killed in battle. The Historical Commission operates under the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, whose leader is a Cooper appointee.

The commission voted to appoint a committee to collect legal interpretations of the 2015 law from the UNC School of Government, NCCU law school, Wake Forest law school, Campbell law school, the state Justice Department and any other “appropriate sources.” The commission wants opinions on what actions it can take, whether it can recommend sites other than Bentonville, and whether the commission can recommend that the monuments be reinterpreted.

The commission wants information on whether the monuments are in danger, or if they’re in the way of construction. And, the commission wants advice from Yale history professor David Blight and Atlanta History Center president Sheffield Hale, described as experts on monuments.

Letters opposing relocation from Republican legislative leaders will be considered.

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said in a letter to Cooper that the Historical Commission does not have the authority under a 2015 law to approve moving the monuments.

Dozens of people attended the commission meeting, including some of the people charged with toppling the Durham statue.

“There’s a lot of anger about these monuments,” said Dante Strobino of Durham, who was charged after the protest where the Durham statue was pulled down.

“We’re going to keep organizing until these statues come down, and they’re going to come down by any means necessary,” he said.

Members of law enforcement searched members of the public before allowing them to enter the auditorium where the meeting was held.

Frank Powell of NC Sons of Confederate Veterans said his group should have a say in what happens to the monuments.

“Those memorials are to our granddaddies, great-grandfathers,” he said. “So those are our ancestors, so we should have a voice in any decision that’s made.”

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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