Written by Ashton Snyder on
 March 24, 2024

North Carolina Supreme Court Won’t Revive Challenge To Remove Civil War Monument

The streets of Asheville, North Carolina, are witnessing a historic shift.

North Carolina's highest court has decided not to revive a lawsuit challenging the removal of a monument dedicated to Civil War-era Governor Zebulon Vance, setting a precedent in the state's approach to historical monuments.

In the wake of racial justice demonstrations sparked by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Asheville's city leaders made the significant decision to dismantle a 75-foot tall obelisk honoring Governor Zebulon Vance.

Erected in 1897, this monument became a focal point of controversy, facing vandalism and threats that underscored the community's divided perspectives on historical recognition and racial justice.

The move to remove the Vance monument did not go unchallenged. The Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, having previously contributed over $138,000 towards the monument's restoration, initiated a lawsuit to prevent its dismantlement.

However, their efforts were met with legal setbacks, beginning with a dismissal by a trial judge, followed by an unsuccessful appeal that temporarily halted, but ultimately did not prevent the monument's removal.

Legal Battles and the Question of Historical Preservation

Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr. noted in his critique that while there were questions regarding the legal standing of the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, the core issue lay in their failure to argue the merits of their contract claim effectively. This oversight led to the abandonment of their case, paving the way for the monument's base removal.

The legal journey of the Vance monument's removal process reflects a broader narrative of reevaluating Confederate symbols across the South. Amidst this reexamination, Asheville's decision to dismantle a monument in a location believed to have been a marketplace for enslaved individuals sends a powerful message regarding the recontextualization of public spaces and historical memory.

Another aspect of this evolving landscape is the recent ruling by a Court of Appeals panel that affirmed Alamance County commissioners' decision to retain a Confederate monument outside their historic courthouse.

Reflecting on a Nation's Path Forward

Zebulon Vance, a figure immortalized by the now-dismantled monument, served not only as a governor but also as a Confederate military officer and a U.S. senator. His legacy, intertwined with the complexities of the Civil War and its aftermath, reflects the multifaceted narratives that shape our understanding of American history.

As the debate over Confederate statues continues to evolve, cities like Winston-Salem find themselves at the heart of litigation concerning similar monuments. These legal and social battles signify a broader reckoning with how history is commemorated and the values that public monuments seek to uphold.

The decision by North Carolina's highest court not to revive the lawsuit against the removal of the Vance monument marks a significant moment in the ongoing dialogue about memory, history, and the landscapes we inhabit. It reflects a growing consensus that the symbols we choose to honor in our public spaces must align with the principles of justice and equality that we aspire to embody as a nation.

In conclusion, the saga of the Vance monument—from its initial erection in 1897 to its recent dismantlement—encapsulates a broader narrative of how communities grapple with their historical symbols.

The North Carolina Supreme Court's decision not only addresses the immediate legal challenges but also signals a shift in the way we engage with our collective past. As we move forward, the lessons learned from Asheville's experience may guide other communities in their efforts to reconcile with history, ensuring that the monuments we choose to preserve reflect the values of inclusivity and respect for all.

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About Ashton Snyder


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