Could Charlotte move its Confederate monuments?

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A white supremacist rally defending a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, has turned into a national conversation over what cities should do with the hundreds of memorials still standing that honor soldiers or leaders of the South during the Civil War.

Like most Southern cities, Charlotte is home to several Confederate monuments. There are 120 more around the state of North Carolina.

In light of the violence in Charlottesville, several political leaders in Charlotte are calling for the city’s Confederate monuments to be removed from public property and put in museums.

What Confederate monuments does Charlotte have?

There are numerous others around the region (including one in Cornelius), but the city of Charlotte has two major Confederate monuments standing today.

The first is in Elmwood Cemetery, a city-owned graveyard at 5th Street and Cedar Street that is the final resting place for prominent Charlotteans like D.A. Tompkins and Edward Dilworth Latta.

There is an obelisk there, erected in 1867, that honors Confederate soldiers from Mecklenburg County who died during the Civil War. There are also numerous graves of Confederate dead, many marked with mini Confederate flags.

The second is between Memorial Stadium and the Grady Cole Center off North Kings Drive, both owned by Mecklenburg County. It was erected in 1929 in commemoration of a Confederate soldier reunion. It praises Confederate soldiers for their “heroism in war and fidelity in peace” and lauds that they accepted the outcome of the war and “preserved the Anglo-Saxon civilization of the South.”

In contrast to the statue in Charlottesville, the two monuments in Charlotte are not in particularly prominent locations.

The monument at Elmwood Cemetery is tucked within its winding paths. The one by Memorial Stadium is actually now blocked off by construction fencing.

But both of Charlotte’s Confederate monuments are on public property, giving them an implicit endorsement.

Are our elected officials satisfied with this arrangement?

In 2015, they were. Things appear to be changing.

Charlotte elected officials have not formally renewed discussion, but Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles both said Tuesday they’d support moving them.

The last time they were discussed in earnest was in 2015, shortly after the massacre of nine black church parishioners in downtown Charleston. Immediately after, both of Charlotte’s Confederate monuments were defaced with spray paint.

The city removed a Confederate monument from Old City Hall, restored it, and quietly placed it at Elmwood Cemetery with the rest of the Confederate memorials.

Photo via N.C. Department of Cultural Resources

The City Council did not actively order the move to Elmwood and did not suggest moving it elsewhere. According to meeting minutes, then-city manager Ron Carlee informed the council that he was planning to make the move to Elmwood and that he would proceed unless told otherwise.

“The manager has put you on notice and if you want to talk to him about it, you need to get to him quickly,” then-Mayor Dan Clodfelter told the rest of the council, according to the minutes.

At the time, Mayor Jennifer Roberts was campaigning for the job she now holds. She said in a WFAE-sponsored debate that fall that “Confederate monuments belong in a museum.”

Roberts reiterated that position Tuesday.

““I have said for years that Confederate monuments should be in museums,” she said by email. “North Carolina has nearly 100 Confederate monuments and it’s time for all of them to be placed in museums.”

Vi Lyles, the city’s mayor pro tem and candidate for mayor, indicated Tuesday that she would also still support moving the monuments.

“It is important that we not erase history, so we may learn from it,” she said in an email to the Agenda. “However, we should not dignify sentiments of hatred by memorializing them in our public spaces without proper information. Museums are a place where the history of the Confederacy can be placed with the needed context.”

Mecklenburg County commissioners debated what to do with its monument, which was repeatedly spray painted.

The general consensus seemed to be that nothing should be done with the monument.

Then Chairman Trevor Fuller called the monument a “glorification of a message of hate” but did not call for it to be removed.

Commissioner George Dunlap blamed the media for bringing up the issue said it was in the county’s “best interest to not choose or pick sides, or to have winners and losers in terms of whose statute ought to stand and whose statute ought to be removed,” according to meeting minutes.

Commissioner Jim Puckett said that people who “are so terribly sure about how offensive this particular monument is, I think are a bit off.”

Commissioner Ella Scarborough said at the time “there was no issue in Mecklenburg County” and that discussion of the monument should “cease.”

That’s essentially what happened. The monument was put in a protective case and has not been discussed since.

It’s unclear if anyone’s positions have shifted since then.

So could Charlotte actually move its Confederate monuments to a museum?

Not under current state law.

In 2015, the state legislature passed a law for the “protection of monuments, memorials and works of art.”

The law says that monuments and statues can only be moved in very narrow, specific circumstances. A monument could be moved if it needs special work to preserve it, or if moving it is necessary for construction or rehabilitation of the area around it.

The law also specifically states that monuments can not be moved to museums unless they were originally put there. Monuments that are moved are to be put in places with “similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access.”

Any chance that will change?

Maybe. But probably not.

Gov. Roy Cooper came out with a strong statement Tuesday saying that Confederate monuments should be only in “textbooks and museums” and called on the state legislature to repeal the 2015 law.

Cooper is a Democrat and the state legislature is controlled by a supermajority of Republicans. GOP officials have not spoken publicly about whether the law will be revisited.

Are they worried about violence around North Carolina’s Confederate monuments?

Yes.

Cooper’s statement described concern about the chance that protesters could hurt themselves trying to remove Confederate monuments or violence could erupt in response. Earlier this week, a group of protesters pulled down a Confederate statue in Durham. One woman has been charged with felonies for doing so.

“The likelihood of protesters being injured or worse as they may try to topple any one of the hundreds of monuments in our state concerns me,” Cooper wrote. “And the potential for those same white supremacist elements we saw in Charlottesville to swarm the site, weapons in hand, in retaliation is a threat to public safety.”

Charlotte officials told the Observer that police have been regularly checking on the monument in Elmwood but are not aware of any threats to it.

How would people in Charlotte react to efforts to move the Confederate monuments?

Chances are, it would be very controversial.

It was only about a decade ago that Charlotte named a street after Martin Luther King Jr. One plan proposed was to rename Stonewall Street, which is named after Confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s wife, who lived in Charlotte. The effort was withdrawn after causing “hard feelings” in the community.

[Agenda story: It was just 10 years ago that Charlotte renamed a street after MLK]

Charlotteans also spoke on both sides of the issue in 2015. Arguments for keeping Confederate memorials ranged from the fact that many Confederate soldiers were drafted into service and may not have supported slavery to “not hiding from our past” to something about black on black crime, according to meeting minutes.

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Andrew Dunn
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