In the wake of protesters toppling Durham’s Confederate soldier statue and other cities removing them, city and county leaders are starting a Durham Public Monuments Commission.
North Carolina state law prevents cities from removing Confederate statues from public property. On Aug. 14, 2017, Durham protesters pulled down the Confederate soldier statue in front of the Durham County Administration Building, which is an old courthouse. The statue was placed there in 1924. The base remains.
Durham County Commissioner James Hill said it’s a situation that he really wishes had been handled by the commissioners before the 2015 state law, but he wasn’t on the board of commissioners then. He said they could have removed the statue years ago.
“Now people see no other recourse than the action they took this summer,” Hill said.
The 12-member monuments commission will have five members appointed by the Durham City Council, five members appointed by the Durham County Board of Commissioners and co-chairs appointed by Mayor Steve Schewel and Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs.
The commission will have until the end of 2018 to recommend what Durham should do with the toppled statue. It will also inventory all public monuments, memorials and murals. And members will recommend what Durham people, events and locations are missing from Durham’s historical narrative.
N.C. Central University students Gary Bush, Dominique Walker and Kevin Jeter shared study results with elected leaders Tuesday. They found a majority of those surveyed wanted Confederate monuments removed completely from public spaces.
The students recommend that no public money be used to restore or maintain the Confederate monument. The students will expand their survey to more people and across Durham at the request of the commissioners. Bush, Walker and Jeter were also encouraged to apply for the monuments commission.
City Council member DeDreana Freeman said the commission should reflect gender, race and ethnic diversity.
Commissioner James Hill said he’d like someone on the commission to be a supporter of keeping Confederate mouments, and wants to hear them defend commemorating the taking up of arms to keep people enslaved.
Hill said after the meeting that he’s read that a majority of Americans support keeping monuments in place.
“That’s not the feeling with me,” he said. Among ong his friends, he’s hard-pressed to find someone who wants to keep Confederate monuments, he said.
“The states’ right they [Confederacy] were defending was keeping people enslaved,” Hill said.
NCCU students wanted the commission to be renamed committee to reflect representation of the entire Durham community. Commissioner Ellen Reckhow agreed it should be called a committee. Others said it could also be named a task force.
By the end of February, city and county leaders will finalize the framework for the commission and application process. Then Schewel and Jacobs will appoint co-chairs. The application process will be held in the spring, and then the first meeting of the commission or task force will be held this summer.
Jacobs recommended the group complete its work by the end of this year, with a final report and recommendations presented to a Joint City-County Committee meeting in December.
About the statue
The Confederate soldier statue toppled during a demonstration Aug. 14, 2017, was installed outside the then Durham County Courthouse on May 10, 1924.
Some 60 elderly Confederate veterans gathered to witness the unveiling. Hundreds packed themselves inside the courthouse, which was decked out in Confederate flags, to celebrate the “heroes in gray” and the bronze statue, paid for with a special local tax the state legislature had approved.
The veterans cried with “happiness and pride” as they saw the statue, a “perpetuation of their memory and their deeds,” The Durham Morning Herald reported.
In October 2017, three months after demonstrators toppled the statue, the Durham County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to District Attorney Roger Echols estimating the statue’s monetary value, but also stating it has “no moral value.”
Commissioners estimated the statue was worth $23,789 and replacing it would cost $28,000.