A committee tasked with figuring out what to do with a Confederate monument pulled down by protesters in downtown Durham recommends displaying the crumpled statue indoors, away from central areas, and alongside “interpretive text explaining its origin and the history that led to its fall.”
The recommendation is part of a twenty-five page report by the Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials. The committee will present the full report Tuesday during a press conference immediately following a meeting of the Joint City-County Committee (around eleven a.m.). The report is a culmination of eight months of public engagement and research.
“When the statue was taken down, it was irreparably damaged,” the report reads. “Nevertheless, the statue remains as much a historical artifact of these times as it is an artifact of the period when it was planned, erected and viewed. We believe that the statue should be displayed in its current condition so that the whole history of race relations and the fight for civil rights in Durham may in part be illuminated through this object.”
The committee was convened by city and county elected officials after protesters, responding to the deadly white supremacist Unite the Right gathering in Charlottesville, pulled down the statue in August 2017. The base of the statue still stands in front of the county administration building on East Main Street, where it has stood since its dedication in 1924.
The committee was asked to engage the public in proposing to county commissioners a plan for disposing of the mangled statue and its base and to catalog all known “remnants of the Confederacy or the history of enslavement existing in Durham.” It also took ideas on what people, events and places should be recognized in public monuments, which it will share with another group organizing a year-long celebration of Durham’s 150th birthday.
The report makes clear that the committee’s mission was not to debate the causes of the Civil War, or the morality of how the statue was removed. Instead, the committee sought a solution that captures both the difficult and bright spots of Durham’s history.
The committee recommends that the county display the statue in its “current condition” inside the building where it had stood outside. The statue should not be placed in a central area, the committee suggests, so that people, like county employees, who don’t want to see it don’t have to. The group also suggests the city and county work with local universities and the public library “to develop language to display beside the damaged statue that puts this object in accurate historical context, including the circumstances that led to its new placement.”
As for the base, the committee recommends the city and county incorporate it into a new piece of art that honors veterans (both Union and Confederate), enslaved people, “those who worked for a more equal and just society,” and women and children left at home during the war. It should also acknowledge that the state was divided over secession and slavery, and include language explaining why it was put up and why it was torn down. When “legally possible,” the report says, the altered base should be moved to a city-owned cemetery.
The statue was originally purchased for $5,000 – the only Confederate monument on public property in the state paid for solely with public money. The money was raised via a temporary tax increase approved by legislators at a time when many African-Americans paid taxes, but couldn’t vote, the committee notes.
Julian Carr, a businessman, philanthropist and white supremacist who avowedly supported the Ku Klux Klan was a major advocate for the statue, although according to the committee’s research, he wanted a more “grand” monument, like Silent Sam on UNC campus, for which he gave a now infamous dedication speech in 1913.
The committee’s work took into account a 2015 law that prohibits the removal of “objects of remembrance” and limits when and where such relics can be relocated. Ultimately, the committee heeded the interpretation of UNC School of Government professor Adam Lovelady that the law applies only to intact objects, not ones that have been damaged. What’s more, it doesn’t require local governments to repair damaged monuments, and while it does say the North Carolina Historical Commission’s approval is required to alter a monument, it says nothing about adding new elements. (The report does add the caveat that the 2015 law has not been tested in court, so challenges are hard to foresee.)
The committee also held eight public meetings attended by about 140 people. More than 245 people responded to a survey, more than 60 sent emails, seven wrote letters and others engaged with the committee on Facebook. NCCU students also surveyed fifty-three residents. All the meeting materials have been compiled at the North Carolina Room of the Durham Public Library.
As for other markers of the Confederacy, the committee identified 15 sites. Bennett Place, the site of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War and now a Unity monument, and the graves of Confederate soldiers should not be altered, the committee said, as “they do not, in our view, celebrate the Confederacy or any aspect of slavery or white supremacy.”
A state historical marker on West Chapel Hill Street recognizing Carr’s business and philanthropic contributions should, however, include that he was a KKK member who funded white supremacist campaigns and violence. The committee recommends that the city petition the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Advisory Committee to rework the language, calling the marker a “site of concern.”
The committee notes that there are no monuments to “the workers who built Durham” and few sites mark Durham’s civil rights history. Among the people, places and events the public suggested for recognition: Pauli Murray, Chuck Davis, Floyd McKissick Senior, Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, Native Americans, enslaved people and the Royal Ice Cream sit-in.
More coverage to come from the committee’s press conference Tuesday.