A new committee will take on the questions of what to do with Durham’s now-dismantled Confederate monument and what monuments in Durham should memorialize going forward.
Wendy Jacobs, chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel headed up an effort to establish a monument committee after the statue of a Confederate soldier was pulled from its base by protesters this summer. The mangled figure of the soldier is sitting in a county warehouse, while its stone base still stands in front of the former county courthouse on Main Street.
The committee will consist of two co-chairs appointed by Jacobs and Schewel and ten other members appointed by the city council and board of commissioners. The spots will be filled through a similar application process used for other appointed boards and commissions, Jacobs said.
Once the committee is convened, it will take public input on what people, places, and events should be memorialized and create an inventory of Durham’s public monuments and memorials. They’ll be expected to issue final recommendations in December 2018.
“I think everyone needs to understand we’re not trying to erase history. … We’re trying to highlight it and trying to make people face it,” said Commissioner James Hill during Tuesday’s Joint City-County Committee meeting.
Committee members will be tasked with trying to figure out what to do with the Confederate monument that stood on county grounds since 1924. In doing so, they’ll be limited by a 2015 law that protects such monuments.
Under that law “objects of remembrance” on public property can’t be removed permanently. There is an exception to the law allows for the removal of a monument a “building inspector or similar official has determined poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition.”
There are also a few circumstances in which a monument can be moved: to preserve it (for example, from flooding or vandalism) or to make way for construction. Still, a monument relocated permanently has to be moved “to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction.”
The statute does not appear to rule out altering a local government-owned monument, for example by adding other objects or covering the monument.
“Those are all things we hope the commission will look into,” Jacobs said.
At the request of District Attorney Roger Echols, the board of commissioners provided several valuations of the monument, adding that it has “no moral value for our community.”
Durham City Council member DeDreana Freeman stressed that the committee should include members of different races and genders. Hill added that it should also include someone who supports preserving Confederate monuments.
“I want to see them defend their position,” he said. “I want to hear what they have to say. I want to hear how you defend taking up arms to keep people enslaved.”
As part of Tuesday’s discussion, officials heard a presentation from students at N.C. Central who surveyed residents living around the university about Confederate monuments. Fifty-one percent of the respondents “strongly agreed” that Confederate monuments should be removed from public spaces. Based on their study, they recommend that public money not be used to restore the fallen monument.
Eight people charged with toppling the monument an inciting a riot at the August 14 demonstration are due to appear in court on Thursday. Charges have already been dropped against three people, and another will see their charges dropped after paying restitution and completing community service hours.