RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The location of three Confederate memorials standing on North Carolina’s old Capitol grounds for over a century could depend on a panel of professors and historic preservation boosters asked by the governor to move the monuments to a Civil War battle site.
The North Carolina Historical Commission meets Friday to consider Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to relocate the monuments to Bentonville Battlefield, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Raleigh. The memorials include a 75-foot-tall (23-meter-tall) obelisk remembering all of the state’s Confederate dead. There are also two smaller statutes.
Cooper announced his plans in the weeks following a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the subsequent toppling of a local monument in Durham. State and local governments across the South are debating and reconsidering the placement of Confederate symbols following last month’s violence and the 2015 shootings of black parishioners at a South Carolina church.
“Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums — not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds,” Cooper wrote.
But a 2015 state law approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly prohibits their removal from public property without legislative approval and restricts relocation. The law says the 11-member commission can relocate a monument to a site “of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability and access.”
A Cooper Cabinet secretary petitioning the commission says Bentonville complies with the relocation requirement and would put the monuments in historical context.
Republican legislative leaders wrote to commission members Thursday, urging them not to grant Cooper’s request. The Republicans say the reasons being given for the relocation and the Bentonville battle site don’t meet the law’s requirements. Senate leader Phil Berger told Cooper in a letter that any decision to approve the relocation would likely be overturned in court with litigation.
“The spirit and the letter of the law do not allow for the granting of the governor’s request,” a memo from Speaker Tim Moore and other House Republicans reads.
The March 1865 battle at Bentonville marked the last full-scale action of the Civil War in which a Confederate army mounted a tactical offensive.
The monuments join others that currently stand on the city square in downtown Raleigh where the old Capitol building was completed in 1840. The legislature met there until 1963. Cooper’s office is now inside. A monument on the square to honor the contributions of black North Carolina residents is being planned.