While cities around the South are talking about removing Confederate monuments in light of the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., statues in North Carolina are protected by a 2015 state law.
Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the law that prevents removing, relocating, or altering monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission.
The law protects statues from removal by officials, but protesters pulled down a Confederate statue at the old Durham County courthouse Monday.
State legislators passed the law as protests over a Confederate statue on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus called Silent Sam were hitting a peak.
The bill protecting monuments passed the Senate unanimously.
By the time the House debated it, white supremacist Dylann Roof had murdered nine African-American worshipers in a Charleston, S.C., church. The law won final approval after the murders and amid a national debate about Confederate symbols. By that time, some House members were vigorously opposing the bill.
White nationalists in Charlottesville were protesting city plans to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee when they clashed with counter-protesters. A car ran into a crowd of people, one woman died and dozens were injured.
North Carolina has more than 200 Civil War memorials, statues and markers, according to Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina, a project of the UNC-Chapel Hill Library. Most of the 54 statues and 20 memorials honor Confederates.
Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat who urged House members to defeat the bill, said Monday that because it became law, residents are stuck with Confederate monuments even if they want them gone.
“We have a long-standing dispute over Silent Sam on the university campus,” he said. “It has given us lots of chances for dialogue about history.
“Sometimes, dialogue has to lead to action. In our community, the vast majority of people would like to get rid of that monument and build something that is a better contextualized representation of our shared racial history.”
Sen. Tommy Tucker, the Waxhaw Republican who co-sponsored the law, still supports it.
“The reason it was passed was to protect history,” Tucker said. “I don’t have any misgivings about having the bill passed. Monuments can stand where they have been for 150 years or more.”
Meyer said removing Confederate statues, which he called “monuments to a racial hierarchy,” isn’t going to make people forget the Civil War.
Confederate monuments around the Triangle, including the memorial outside the former Durham County courthouse, Silent Sam, and the Confederate Women’s monument at the State Capitol were vandalized in July 2015.
Groups defending the Confederate flag and supporting Silent Sam rallied around the statue at UNC-Chapel Hill in October 2015. Representatives said it was important to show support for the monument even with the law protecting it. The ralliers were met by counter protesters.
Rep. Garland Pierce, a Laurinburg Democrat and former head of the Legislative Black Caucus, voted against the law in 2015, but said Monday that trying to change or repeal it would draw too much attention.
“History is history, whether it be positive or negative,” Pierce said. “History tells our story.”
Over the last few days, mayors of Baltimore and Lexington, Kentucky, have said they want Confederate statues in their cities removed.