Nearly a year-and-a-half after a Confederate monument on Main Street in downtown Durham was toppled by protesters, local elected officials heard a recommendation to display the statue in its damaged condition, adding context to both it and its intact base.

A joint committee of Durham County commissioners and Durham City Council members voted Tuesday to refer the recommendation to their respective attorneys and managers for review. There’s no timeline for when the Board of County Commissioners, which has final say on what becomes of the statue and its base, might take action.

The recommendation comes from the Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials, which spent the past eight months taking public input on the monument, researching the statue’s history, and hearing from experts on all sides of the issue. (Read the committee’s final report on its research and recommendations here).

The committee recommends displaying the crumpled figure of a Confederate solider in its current condition inside of the county administration building on East Main Street for security reasons. The statue should be displayed with “accurate historical context, including the circumstances that led to its new placement,” away from central areas so people can avoid it if they wish. As for the monument base, which still stands outside the county building, it should be incorporated into a new display that tells a full history of the Civil War in Durham – including that the city had been divided over secession, why the statue was put up and why it was pulled down.

“When the statue was taken down, it was irreparably damaged,” the committee’s 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’s co-chairs, Charmaine McKissick-Melton and Robin Kirk, said other indoor sites, like the Museum of Durham History, were considered but ultimately ruled out because they didn’t have the space or resources to house the statue. 

The committee recommended that, when legally possible, the altered base be moved to either the Maplewood or Beechwood cemeteries, which are both city-owned. That suggestion sparked some controversy during the meeting, since Beechwood is historically a burial ground for African-Americans, including some of Durham’s most prominent black leaders.

County commissioner James Hill called the idea of moving the monument to Beechwood “an affront.” He likened the suggestion to moving a statue honoring Nazis to a Jewish cemetery, and said he couldn’t believe the committee would even suggest it. Kirk clarified that not only the base would be moved in that scenario, but the larger artwork in which it would be incorporated. McKissick-Melton said the two cemeteries were lumped together because they are both city-owned, and perhaps Beechwood should not have been included.

In addition to crafting a recommendation for disposition of the monument, the Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials was tasked with cataloging any remnants of the Confederacy in Durham. The committee’s report makes clear its intent was not to debate the causes of the Civil War or the way the statue was removed.

“Our goal was to look to the future, not re-fight past battles,” Kirk said. “Central to our recommendations is that we accept all of our past, to paraphrase Pauli Murray, both the dignity and the degradation of our ancestors. Above all, we see this as an opportunity to deepen our commitment to education and the values that unite us, including a commitment to learning and embracing our increasingly diverse community.”

The monument was dedicated in 1924, and paid for with a legislatively approved tax increase during a time when many African-Americans paid taxes but could not vote. At the height of Jim Crow, the statue stood outside what was then the county courthouse.

Much of the reaction from city and county officials Tuesday was to praise the work of the committee and the process by which it arrived at its recommendations.

Wendy Jacobs, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, said she couldn’t give an opinion on the recommendations themselves until hearing from the county attorney, but appreciates that the committee tried to strike a balance between polarized opinions about what should happen to the monument. The unveiling of the committee’s final report was a “historic moment,” she said, that shows Durham can navigate difficult issues.

Jacobs said, if the statue is put up in the county administration building, there are ” real safety concerns” to consider, given recent protests around Silent Sam (a now-toppled Confederate statue on UNC Campus) and vandalism of other Confederate memorials. The building is typically staffed by a contracted security company, and deputies provide security during events. A county spokesperson said it’s unclear whether that contract would have to be revisited to account for the statue’s presence.

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said she is concerned about whether the proposal to add to the base of the statue comports with a 2015 state law, which requires the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission to move or alter any “object of remembrance,” like Confederate monuments. In their report, committee members said the law doesn’t address situations in which a monument has been damaged.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said while the monument’s fate is squarely a county decision, he thought the committee’s recommendation was “very good.” Both Jacobs and Schewel said there currently aren’t plans for the city or county to lobby legislators to change the 2015 law, which prohibits monuments from being permanently removed. Schewel said he didn’t think legislators would go along.

Schewel said he would support the city petitioning the state to rework “problematic” language on a West Chapel Hill Street historical marker recognizing Julian Carr, as the committee recommended, to include that he was an ardent KKK member.

The marker was one “site of concern” the committee identified out of a list of fifteen remnants of the Confederacy or the history of enslavement in Durham. Among the most vocal supporters of the Durham monument, Carr funded white supremacist activities and gave multiple racist speeches, including at the dedication of Silent Sam.

Raul Jimenez, one of the people charged but not convicted of toppling the Durham statue, said he’d rather see the statue in the trash and that the committee “chose the side of the Confederacy” in recommending that the statue be displayed again with information about why it was put up. He added that people of color should be centered in deciding any additional context to add to the statue or the base. 

William O’Quinn, a member of the committee and an official with the Durham chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, wasn’t thrilled with the recommendations either, but said he recognized the statue would likely be damaged if it was restored to its original spot, and agreed it has been damaged beyond repair. He said the base should not be moved or altered other than to add additional information or monuments around it. 

Jacobs says the next step is to hear from the county attorney and get public feedback on the recommendations. The committee also took public input on what people, places and events should be memorialized in Durham – whether via monuments, street names, artwork or some other representation – and currently are not. Suggestions ranged from Pauli Murray to workers who established Durham to enslaved people, Native Americans and LGBTQ community leaders. Those suggestions will be passed on to organizers of Durham’s sesquicentennial celebration.

Monument report by on Scribd

One reply on “What Might Happen to Durham’s Toppled Confederate Monument? City, County Leaders Hear Recommendations”

  1. The Sesquicentennial Honors Commission is currently seeking nominations and public input regarding – as the article puts it – what people, places and events should be memorialized in Durham – whether via monuments, street names, artwork or some other representation – and currently are not.

    Nominations can be made directly at:

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