Gov. Roy Cooper’s call to relocate Confederate statues on state property attracted more support Wednesday, but legislators remain divided over whether the monuments should be moved and the law protecting them repealed.
Cooper called Tuesday for relocating the monuments and repealing the 2015 law that blocks removal or relocation of monuments on public property. A day later, some legislators said it’s time to talk about repeal.
Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius called repeal “absolutely a conversation that we have to have.”
The bill passed the Senate unanimously in April 2015. By the time the House voted three months later, nine African-American worshippers had been murdered in Charleston, S.C., and debate over Confederate images on public property was raging. The House approved the bill largely along party lines, with most Democrats opposed.
A start on repealing the law would “have to get all the stakeholders around the table to talk,” Tarte said. Those stakeholders should include heritage groups, he said, but not white supremacists.
The violent white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville last weekend propelled renewed interest throughout the South in removing Confederate monuments. Baltimore removed Confederate statues in the hours before dawn Wednesday. The mayor of Lexington, Ky., has said he wants to relocate two statues sitting in front of a former courthouse.
Cooper said in a written statement and video Tuesday that the Charlottesville violence influenced his decision to call for relocating Confederate monuments on state property to museums or historic sites and for repealing the law that requires permission from the N.C. Historical Commission to remove, relocate or alter state-owned monuments or memorials. Even with the commission’s blessing, the law prohibits moving them to museums unless they were originally located in one, and requires any monument that is moved to go to an area of similar prominence.
One of the law’s primary sponsors, Republican Sen. Jim Davis of Franklin, is noticing with dismay other cities removing statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. He appreciates that the state has a law preventing such actions and opposes repealing it.
“I think these monuments are of historical significance,” he said. “To me, they don’t mean white supremacy, they don’t mean bigotry, they don’t mean prejudice. They mean history.”
Monuments shouldn’t be removed because they offend someone, Davis said.
Earlier this week, Rep. Garland Pierce, a former head of the state Legislative Black Caucus, opposed an attempt to repeal, saying it would succeed only in stirring animosity. After Cooper’s proposal, however, Pierce, a Wagram Democrat, said legislators and the governor should work on a compromise, as they did earlier this year to change the controversial law known as House Bill 2, or the bathroom bill.
“We need to settle down, get our parties to the table to find a solution to work it out for the good of our state,” he said.
The Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday endorsed Cooper’s proposals, applauding the Democratic governor “for taking swift actions to assess the next steps involved in addressing monuments and memorials in North Carolina.”
In the Republican-controlled legislature, leaders who would be key to any agreement to repeal the law or move the statues were mum Wednesday. Senate leader Phil Berger’s and House Speaker Tim Moore’s offices did not respond to emails Tuesday or Wednesday.
A Cooper spokesman said in emails that the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is working on a full list of Confederate monuments and memorials on state-controlled property and how much it would cost to remove them. Criteria for which monuments would be moved has not been set.
A list of monuments at the State Capitol includes two Confederate monuments, a statue and a tablet. Other Confederate statues on state property include Silent Sam on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus and a Confederate memorial and a monument at Fort Fisher State Historic Site.
The same law that puts strict limits on moving state-owned statues binds city and county governments.
Rep. Chaz Beasley said decisions about monuments on local government property should be left to local officials.
“This is not something that should come from Raleigh,” said Beasley, a Charlotte Democrat. “It’s something that should come from the people in their communities.”