A vandal or vandals defaced the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee near the entrance of Duke Chapel.
The incident happened sometime overnight, Duke University spokesman Keith Lawrence said, adding that the campus police are investigating.
Lawrence declined to speculate about how the damage was inflicted. Parts of Lee’s face had been chipped off, including all of his nose.
The statue’s face is high enough off the ground that most people would need a stepstool or small ladder to reach it.
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The incident happened amid the ongoing controversy, heightened by events last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, about the presence of Confederate monuments on public property and other prominent locations. On Monday, protesters pulled down one such monument in downtown Durham; seven people face charges.
Another local Confederate memorial, UNC Chapel Hill’s “Silent Sam” statue on McCorkle Place, has been vandalized repeatedly in recent years, usually with spray paint.
Thursday’s incident is the first known vandalism targeting the Lee statue at Duke.
Duke officials said they’d increased security around the chapel, and will review a surveillance video from inside it.
Like their counterparts at UNC-CH, the Duke administration faces calls to deal with the statue. A Duke Divinity School alumnus, Ocracoke United Methodist Church paster Richard Bryant, argues that campus officials should begin making plans to remove or disavow it.
“Racist iconography has no place in a Christian church,” Bryant said earlier this week.
On Thursday, Duke President Vince Price said people should respect the university’s process for dealing with the issue.
“For an individual or group of individuals to take matters into their own hands and vandalize a house of worship undermines the right, protected in our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, of every Duke student and employee to participate fully in university life,” Price said. “To that end, earlier this week I began consulting with students, faculty, alumni and others about the ways in which we can use this issue to teach, learn and heal. Together – and only together – we will determine an appropriate course of action informed by our collective values.”
He added that Duke Chapel “is a place of sanctuary and refuge that belongs to every member of the Duke community.”
Unlike Silent Sam and Durham County’s Confederate memorial, Duke Chapel and the Lee statue are on private property.
The statue of Lee is one of 10 that ring the portal of the cathedral’s main entrance, and has been there since Duke Chapel’s construction. While Duke has long held the statues are symbolic and not meant to represent real people, the image of Lee is unmistakably that of the Confederacy’s top general.
Duke lore holds that the chapel’s builder, John Donnelly, chose the people to depict in consultation with a professor at Vanderbilt University.