A year after protesters brought down the Confederate soldier statue in downtown Durham, the county is still deciding what to do with the remains.
A lawyer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans wants the county to restore the statue and put it back on the stone pedestal that remains in front of the Durham County Administration Building on East Main Street, which is a former courthouse. The county owns the property.
“The law protects it,” said the lawyer, Boyd Sturges, who is also a Louisburg Town Council member.
He was referring to the 2015 law signed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory that prevents the removal of monuments by local officials without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission.
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Sturges spoke Tuesday night at a meeting of the City-County Durham Confederate Monuments Committee, formed this year by the city and county to determine what to do with what’s left of the Confederate monument. The committee’s report — due in December — will also include recommendations for what other people, places or events in Durham should be recognized with monuments or markers.
The crumpled statue itself is in storage, and the protesters who toppled it had all charges dismissed or were acquitted. The 2015 law doesn’t say anything about replacing monuments removed by protesters.
Committee Co-Chair Charmaine McKissick-Melton, associate professor at N.C. Central University, wore a T-shirt to the meeting depicting the Black Wall Street historical marker on Parrish Street in Durham. Her parents were civil rights leaders, and she grew up in the movement.
Committee meetings are “not about addressing rights and wrongs of the monument coming down,” McKissick-Melton said.
Even so, Sturges talked about the protesters not having the right to bring down the statue.
“In my world the law is an important thing. You can disagree with them, but unless they’re deemed to be unconstitutional, folks have to follow them,” Sturges said.
After he spoke, small groups shared their ideas for what they want done with the monument and who and what else in Durham should be recognized.
Some agreed with Sturges that the Confederate statue should be restored. Others had different ideas.
Pierce Freelon read the recommendations from his small group, which include moving the monument to Bennett Place, the state historic site in Durham where the largest surrender of the Civil War took place, or reinstalling the statue “as a crumpled hunk of metal” downtown.
William O’Quinn, a monuments committee member who is in Sons of Confederate Veterans, said that others in Durham history that should be remembered include the men and women who worked in the tobacco factories and on tobacco farms.
Other suggestions were to recognize Durham’s noteworthy women, music history, culture, work and labor, Hayti, research and educational institutions.
McKissick-Melton said later that one person in a small group took out a small Confederate flag, which made others at the table uncomfortable, so he was asked to put it away or leave. McKissick-Melton said that she contacted library security and the man calmed down, put the flag away and came back to the table.
Earlier this year, the county replaced the grassy area around the monument with bricks, steps leading up to the area and a bench nearby. The same thing was done to the war memorials on the other side of the building entrance. The base has inscriptions on the sides, including, “This memorial erected by the people of Durham County” under chiseled United States and Confederacy flags. Stone cannonballs sit at the base.
The next Durham Confederate Monuments Committee meeting will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23 in Durham City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza. The guest speaker is Teresa Roane, a former librarian in Richmond, Virginia, and former archivist at the Museum of the Confederacy.