RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) – The North Carolina Historical Commission has delayed a decision about removing Confederate statues until April 2018.
During Friday’s scheduled meeting, member Sam Dixon said a committee should look into the matter.
In early September, the Department of Administration petitioned the Historical Commission to remove three Confederate monuments from the Capitol Grounds in Raleigh. The request came at the direction of Gov. Roy Cooper.
The Commission met Friday to consider Cooper’s request to relocate the monuments to Bentonville Battlefield, which is about 50 miles south of Raleigh. The memorials include a 75-foot-tall obelisk remembering all of the state’s Confederate dead. There are also two smaller statutes.
“The issues that surround this request are very serious,” said Dr. Mary Lynn Bryan, a member of the Historical Commission.
Outside the meeting, a small group of protesters gathered.
“For years, there’s been another group of people that feel that they have been marginalized and so now we have to wait another few months and that doesn’t make sense to me,” said Robbyn Ellison, who wants monuments to come down.
Members of the North Carolina division of Sons of Confederate Veterans also came to show they want the monuments to stay put.
“Well, I understand them delaying it because it is a complicated subject and they need time to get more information. And I hope on that committee that they put a representative from the Sons of Confederate Veterans on there because that is our ancestors, our grandfathers, and great grandfathers and we need to have our point of view represented just like everyone else,” said Frank Powell.
Cooper announced his plans in the weeks following a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the subsequent toppling of a local monument in Durham. State and local governments across the South are debating and reconsidering the placement of Confederate symbols following last month’s violence and the 2015 shootings of black parishioners at a South Carolina church.
“Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums — not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds,” Cooper wrote.
But a 2015 state law approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly prohibits their removal from public property without legislative approval and restricts relocation. The law says the 11-member commission can relocate a monument to a site “of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability and access.”
A Cooper cabinet secretary petitioning the commission says the Bentonville site complies with the relocation requirement and would put the monuments in historical context.
The petition asks the monuments be moved to the Bentonville Battlefield site in Johnston County. In order for the monuments to be moved, a letter to the State Historic Preservation Officer is required as well as an application to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission.
Republican legislative leaders wrote to commission members Thursday, urging them not to grant Cooper’s request. The Republicans say the reasons being given for the relocation and the Bentonville battle site don’t meet the law’s requirements. Senate leader Phil Berger told Cooper in a letter that any decision to approve the relocation would likely be overturned in court with litigation.
“The spirit and the letter of the law do not allow for the granting of the governor’s request,” a memo from Speaker Tim Moore and other House Republicans reads.
The March 1865 battle at Bentonville marked the last full-scale action of the Civil War in which a Confederate army mounted a tactical offensive.
The monuments join others that currently stand on the city square in downtown Raleigh where the old Capitol building was completed in 1840. The legislature met there until 1963. Cooper’s office is now inside. A monument on the square to honor the contributions of black North Carolina residents is being planned.
The monuments are on a Raleigh-designated historic area.
Dixon said there is confusion over statute and commission members are “neutral fact finders.”
One board member, David Dennard, voted against postponement, saying he didn’t believe a delay was “in the best interests of the people of the State of North Carolina.”