North Carolina

Gov. Cooper’s budget includes money for an African-American monument at the Capitol

Should Confederate monuments stay or go?

Confederate monuments on state property are something NC residents feel passionately about -- on both sides of the issue. They voice their opinions on the Capitol grounds in Raleigh, where several monuments stand
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Confederate monuments on state property are something NC residents feel passionately about -- on both sides of the issue. They voice their opinions on the Capitol grounds in Raleigh, where several monuments stand

Money for an African-American monument on the Capitol grounds, an idea that dates back at least to 2010, is included in the state budget proposal Gov. Roy Cooper introduced Wednesday morning.

Cooper’s budget has $2.5 million for a state monument and $1.5 million in matching funds for a separate project called Freedom Park that a private group is backing.

Talk of adding an African-American monument to the land around the State Capitol started at least nine years ago. Lately, there’s been more attention on the statues on Capitol grounds, with protests against its Confederate monuments.

Just this week, a Raleigh man was charged with littering after white hoods associated with the Ku Klux Klan were placed over the heads of figures on one Confederate monument outside the Capitol, The News & Observer reported. A group called Smash Racism Raleigh targeted the Confederate monuments in a protest last month.

Work on Confederate ‘context’ hasn’t advanced

In 2017, Cooper’s administration petitioned for the relocation of three Confederate statues on Capitol grounds to the Bentonville Battlefield in Johnston County. The state Historical Commission rejected the idea, with some members saying they were limited by a 2015 state law that strictly governs when monuments can be moved and where they can go.

As they rejected the Cooper administration’s request last August, the Historical Commission members said they would push for money for an African-American monument, noting that there are several Confederate statues and none that represent African-American contributions or the struggle for civil rights.

The commission members also voted to add context to the Confederate monuments, “to provide a balanced context and accounting of the monuments’ erection in their time in political history, and of the struggle to overcome the consequences of slavery that caused the Civil War, and the subsequent oppressive subjugation of African American people,” as they said in their resolution.

Though they promised to make contextualization of the monuments a priority, the Historical Commission has not advanced that work in the last seven months. There was no discussion of monuments on commission meeting agendas in October or December.

About 30 people organized by Smash Racism Raleigh protest Confederate monuments at the state Capitol building Saturday afternoon. Several Confederate monument supporters showed up to counter protest.

“It has not had much substance, but it has a lot of urgency to it,” Historical Commission Chairman David Ruffin said in an interview Wednesday.

Terms expired for three commission members, Ruffin said, and he is waiting for new appointees.

“It’s high on my agenda, once we get a reconstituted commission,” Ruffin said.

In 2010, a study committee recommended adding an African-American memorial, a women’s memorial, and a Native American memorial to the grounds.

In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory wanted the Historical Commission to endorse an African-American monument, The N&O reported.

Cooper put money for an African-American monument in his previous budget proposals, including $1.8 million in the 2018-19 budget. Then Republicans passed state budgets without the monument spending.

However, after the Historical Commission vote in August, Senate leader Phil Berger told WNCN he would support money for the monument this year. House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement last year that he supported the Historical Commission’s recommendations.

Freedom Park

The $1.5 million in matching funds for Freedom Park would help pay for a separate project planned for an acre of land between the Legislative Building and the Executive Mansion. Durham architect Phil Freelon’s firm designed the park.

That project has also been stalled for years. The idea started in 2002 with public discussions sponsored by the Paul Green Foundation, the N&O has reported.

David Warren, co-chairman of NC Freedom Park, said the state money would bring the group close to its goal.

The legislature will write its own budget, and there’s no guarantee that the money for Freedom Park will be in it.

“We’re working on that end of it,” Warren said.

“We’re about $300,000 away from being able to match the General Assembly appropriation and start construction” with a groundbreaking this year, he said.

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