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Vance Monument Should Not Relocate To Birthplace, Board Says

Matt Bush
The Vance Birthplace is in Reems Creek near Weaverville.

Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners both votedto remove the Vance Monument from Pack Square in downtown Asheville.  But where will it go?  

The 65-foot-high monument is named for Zebulon Vance, former North Carolina governor and Senator - and an enslaver.  A board member for Vance’s birthplace – which is a state historic site north of Asheville - says it definitely shouldn’t go there.

“We do not want to see the monument at the Vance birthplace.”

Steven Nash is president of Mountain History and Culture Group.  It’s one of two support boards for the Vance Birthplace. Nash explains the historic site is set up as an early 19th century mountain plantation, complete with cabins where the 18 people enslaved by the Vance family lived. By contrast, the Vance monument was erected shortly after it’s namesake’s death in 1894, a time when the Lost Cause myth took off in prominence following Reconstruction

Credit Matt Bush
Cabins on the property show where enslaved people would have lived on the plantation.

“It would divert from the efforts of the site. Which has been building toward a far more inclusive and historically accurate interpretation that really emphasizes the role of the enslaved people as well as the Vance family,” said Nash. Nash has written a book about Zebulon Vance and Reconstruction in Western North Carolina.

This month, Kimberly Floyd, the site manager for the Vance Birthplace Historic Site received a community service from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County for her work to “increase the historical accuracy of the programming at the birthplace.” 

Moving the Vance Monument to the site would take away from that effort, says Nash.

“To relocate that monument with all of it’s baggage and it's own history - which is not time specific - would be detrimental to the efforts and the mission of the Vance Birthplace historic site,” said Nash.  

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources which manages the historic site did not have a comment on the matter.

Former New Orleans Mayor Urges Asheville Leaders To Stand Firm On Removal

One person who knows a lot about removing Confederate monuments from public spaces is former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who served in that position from 2010 to 2018.  He spoke virtually at Leadership Asheville’s Buzz Breakfast Wednesday morning.  Landrieu said leaders in Asheville need hold firm on their decision to remove the Vance Monument, and ignore calls that the monument’s removal is ‘erasing history.’

“You can’t change history by taking a monument up or down,” Landrieu said.  “The only thing you’re doing is deciding how do you want to remember that history.  And I say you should tell the truth, the whole truth, and not a little bit of the truth which turns out to be a lie by omission.  Because that’s essentially what (Confederate) monuments are, they are a lie by omission, because they only tell about some guy on one side from four years of our history.”

In 2017, Landrieu oversaw the removal of statues in the city of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and a memorial to the Battle of Liberty Place.  That 1874 attempted coup by a white supremacist paramilitary organization called the White League killed several members of the New Orleans police department.

Matt Bush contributed to this story.

Leadership Asheville is a business sponsor of Blue Ridge Public Radio.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.