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Fate of Asheville’s 3 Confederate downtown markers remains clouded clouded in debate
Monday, 04 September 2017 15:52

From Staff Reports 

A debate is raging over whether to remove three Confederate monuments in downtown Asheville, including, most notably, a 65-foot-tall granite obelisk (installed in 1898) honoring Civil War Gov. Zebulon Vance, a northern Buncombe County native.

Also possibly facing the ax are a plaque to Gen. Robert E. Lee in front of the Vance Monument in Pack Square — and a monument to the 60th Regiment of North Carolina Volunteers at the Buncombe County Courthouse.

Meanwhile, Asheville City Council members have been unanimous in condemning white supremacist’s violent actions earlier in August around a Confederate monument to Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va.

However, council, along with residents, has been divided on what to do about the Vance Monument, prominently located in Pack Square, Asheville’s centerpoint.

There has been much debate locally — and especially — on whether the Vance Monument constitutes a Confederate monument.

To that end, the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources lists just two Confederate “monuments” in Asheville — one in the Newton Academy Cemetery off Biltmore Avenue and the other for the 60th Regiment at the courthouse.

The department’s online list does not include the plaque to Lee or the Vance Monument, both in Pack Square. (Vance was also a Confederate officer.)

However, councilmen Cecil Bothwell and Keith Young, the latter of whom is Asheville’s only black council member, are contending that the three downtown Confederate monuments should be removed.

The Vance Monument memorializes Zebulon Baird Vance, who was born in Weaverville in 1830. He was elected and served as governor of North Carolina in 1862 during the Civil War.

Bothwell said the city should endorse Gov. Roy Cooper’s call to remove all Confederate monuments in North Carolina — and that council should specifically state that it intends to take down the three Confederate monuments in downtown Asheville.

What’s more, the city attorney’s office is looking into Asheville’s legal options regarding its Confederate monuments, given that a state law prohibits local governments from removing monuments.

Councilwoman Julie Mayfield said that council needs to be “very careful not put the city into legal jeopardy.” 

Still, others in the community have called for leaving the Confederate monuments in place and make use of “contextualization” as a way to soften their impact.

For instance, they have suggested that the Vance Monument could be contextualized by placing permanent panels around it, explaining Vance’s history in more detail and highlighting the accomplishments of local African-Americans.

Besides condemning racism, council passed a resolution directing its Governance Committee to review “the relevant general statutes and other applicable laws related to historical markers and monuments on city property.” After that task is completed, Mayor Esther Manheimer said that the city will devise a plan for public engagement on the issue of the monuments.

In other monument activity, Asheville police arrested four people Aug. 18 morning, charging them with vandalizing a plaque honoring Gen. Lee and the Dixie Highway in front of the Vance Monument.

Police said the four protesters were apprehended at the scene, when officers arrived at 7:40 a.m.

Nicole Townsend, 27, Amy Cantrell, 45, Hillary Brown, 30, and Adrienne Sigmon, 34, all from Asheville, were charged with damage to real property by the Asheville Police Department. All four people have since been released.

In the aftermath, Manheimer released a statement on behalf of council, asking activists to “excercise their rights peacefully, with respect for the law and with respect for others.”

Following is Manheimer’s full statement:

“Since Charlottesville, the people of Asheville have overwhelmingly expressed that they oppose Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist agendas,

“Since Charlottesville, more people have become galvanized to work together to dismantle institutional racism and promote equity. It’s not just happening in Asheville — people all over America are taking to the streets to demonstrate their concerns and frustrations.

“I call on everyone in Asheville to commit to peaceful, lawful, nonviolent means of expressing of your views. If you believe in the dignity of all people, if you are fighting for dignity for yourself or others, I encourage you to demonstrate that belief in all of your words and deeds.

“We remind everyone that expressions of free speech must remain peaceful.”

Meanwhile, an announcement was posted on Cantrell’s Facebook page after the incident and it read in part:

“Today marks a week since Heather Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville while resisting white supremacists who came to defend the Robert E. Lee monument. Heather’s death comes after years of black people being slaughtered by the police and white silence in the face of institutionalized violence.

“One of the calls to action made by Charlottesville organizers was to remove all confederate monuments. Today, organizers in Asheville made the decision to answer that call by attempting to remove our Robert E. Lee monument.

“We understand that the removal of this monument would be symbolic of removing white supremacy from the very center of our City. We know that this must be connected to the deep work of ending systemic racism and white supremacy culture here.”

In a related event, an Aug. 13 rally at the Vance Monument in Pack Square, which organizers called a “counter-demonstration” to the Charlottesville white nationalist rally, erupted into violence.

A participant in the peace vigil  — Michael Patrick Faulkner, 38, of Asheville — was charged with simple assault in an incident involving a WLOS-TV (Channel 13) reporter.

The reporter was conducting a Facebook live stream when he reportedly was threatened and attacked .The man is seen in the video pushing the reporter several times, saying, “I will (expletive deleted) you up.”



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