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NC Lawyers Urge Legislative Leaders To Remove Confederate Monuments

A Confederate monument that formerly stood on UNC Chapel Hill's campus, "Silent Sam" was pulled down by protesters in 2018.
A Confederate monument that formerly stood on UNC Chapel Hill's campus, "Silent Sam" was pulled down by protesters in 2018.
'Silent Sam' stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years before protesters pulled it down August 20, 2018
Credit Don McCullough / Flickr Creative Commons
A Confederate monument that formerly stood on UNC Chapel Hill's campus, "Silent Sam" was pulled down by protesters in 2018.

More than 60 lawyers in North Carolina have signed onto a letter urging legislative leaders and Governor Roy Cooper to remove Confederate monuments immediately.

The second paragraph of the letter reads: “We write to convey our view that Confederate monuments in important civic spaces in North Carolina, including at the State Capitol, offend guarantees in our state and federal Constitutions. These displays are inextricably tied to secession, slavery, and white supremacy. We urge their immediate removal.”

One of the signers on the letter is Hampton Dellinger, an attorney in private practice who previously worked for the state Attorney General. He says too much conversation has focused on a 2015 state law that limits municipalities’ ability to remove the monuments.

Dellinger says the underlying point is that state law must follow the state constitution.

“These monuments which are so intertwined with succession, with slavery, with white supremacy,” Dellinger said. “We believe (they are) flatly inconsistent with the equal protection clause and other rights guaranteed to all North Carolinians by our constitutions.”

Dellinger says the time to move the monuments is now, and he adds the group is ready to proceed with a lawsuit, if necessary.

“We think that the moment is now for state officials to take action on their own initiative,” Dellinger said. “But obviously, if that doesn’t happen, then this is a group that would be able to go forward in court.”

A 2015 state law has prevented municipalities from removing statues. However, Dellinger says the constitution ought to override the recent law.

The latest North Carolina city to take action against a Confederate artifact is Salisbury, whose city council approved a resolution this week to relocate a 111-year-old monument.

Salisbury's police chief has deemed the monument — depicting a Greek goddess holding a dying Confederate soldier — to be a public safety threat. It has been the site of heated protests, some where gun shots were fired into the air and police in riot gear used tear gas.

The council agreed Tuesday to having the city pay to move the statue from a public space to a cemetery. The local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy owns the monument and has 10 days to sign on to the deal.

Rocky Mount and Asheville are among the other North Carolina cities who have taken actions to remove or relocate Confederate monuments in recent weeks. In observance of Juneteenth on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed the clerk of the House of Representatives to remove portraits of four former House speakers who served in the Confederacy from display in the Capitol.

There are still nearly 100 monuments honoring the Confederacy across North Carolina, according to state records.

WUNC's Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 North Carolina Public Radio

Jeff Tiberii first started posing questions to strangers after dinner at La Cantina Italiana, in Massachusetts, when he was two-years-old. Jeff grew up in Wayland, Ma., an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, and took summer vacations to Acadia National Park (ME) with his family. He graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and moved to North Carolina in 2006. His experience with NPR member stations WAER (Syracuse), WFDD (Winston-Salem) and now WUNC, dates back 15 years.