All Falls Down: Toppled Confederate monuments push NC Gov to dismount reminders of racist legacy

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Move on building park dedicated to the African American experience, sparks the removal of Confederate statues

The North Carolina Senate passed a bill that allocates $4 million to the North Carolina Capital Projects to build public monuments honoring African Americans. After years of contentious debates regarding statues of Confederate leaders, the state plans to use $2.5 million to raise a monument on capitol grounds. The other $1.5 million is for the building of Freedom Park, a one-acre site that sits in between the governor’s mansion and the state legislature. 

“For centuries African Americans in NC have made countless contributions to our state. It is past time that we recognize them,” said Senator Harry Brown (R). 

Previously, Governor Roy Coopers (D) did not approve the money needed to construct Freedom Park. In 2019, he vetoed the state budget that included funding for the addition of monuments and the green space in the historic Dilworth and Myers Park neighborhoods. However, the decision to allocate spending to new monuments comes after weeks of mounting pressure from protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Demonstrations across the country erupted following the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by local police.

Even though the NC state government stepped forward to add statues dedicated to African Americans, the effort did not address growing demands to remove statues of Confederate soldiers and white supremacists. Yet and still, at North Carolina rallies, demonstrators demanded that the Confederate effigies be removed. To combat the state’s refusal to take down sculptures of known racists, Raleigh protesters identified by AP news as Raleigh United, added a gold plaque on the inscribed words of a monument dedicated to the “Confederate dead.” The new version read, “In honour of George Floyd.” 

Social justice in dismounting a statue

In the past, the Cultural History Artifact Management and Patriotism Act of 2015 thwarted the process of removing Confederate monuments. Passed by the General Assembly of North Carolina in 2015 then signed by former Governor Pat Mccrory (R), a section of the act states that “a monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.” 

Before recent outcries to dismount statues, the Silent Sam protests in 2017 and 2018 rallied to take down Confederate monuments. In 2018, those who opposed the Confederate Soldier Statue in Durham, resulted in protesters taking down the statues themselves after years of complaints. 

As a response, Gov. Cooper requested that  the Confederate Statues be relocated from the state capitol to Bentonville Battlefield in 2018. The State Historical Commission, the organization that oversees the monuments, denied Gov. Cooper’s  request citing an act established that year prohibiting the governor to do so. However, the commission urged the funding of new monuments being built for Freedom Park.

With legislation okaying a budget to build Freedom Park, it’s composition will be a series of sculptures with quotes from prominent black intellectuals and activists with roots in North Carolina reflecting on the African American experience. The architect who designed the park, the late Phil Freelon of firm Perkin+Will, planned the park with the idea that visitors will  “feel the ambiance of the space [and] . . .  leave that moment changed, somehow for the better.” The park is on schedule to start construction this year.

Cristina Kovalik

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