Buncombe Commissioners OK Confederate Monument Removal In Narrow Vote

Jun 16, 2020

In a narrow 4-3 party line vote Tuesday night, Buncombe County commissioners approved a resolution to remove two Confederate monuments in downtown Asheville.  The decision came one week after Asheville City council approved the same resolution unanimously.

The resolution calls for the United Daughters of the Confederacy to remove a memorial to Confederate soldiers outside of the Buncombe County courthouse and a marker bearing the likeness of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Pack Square within 90 days.  It also calls for the creation of a task force to determine the future of the Vance Monument, a 65-foot high obelisk in Pack Square named in honor of North Carolina's governor during the Civil War.  Zebulon Vance then served as U.S. Senator for North Carolina during the Reconstruction period, and fought strongly against civil rights for recently freed Black Americans.  The task force will decide whether to remove the Vance Monument, relocate it, or recontextualize it.

Tuesday's 4-3 vote went along party lines, with four Democrats on the county board voting for it, and three Republicans against it.  Commissioner Al Whitesides, the board's lone Black member, said the removal of the monuments is 'just the beginning' in repairing Asheville's Black community.  "We've got so much more to do in housing and health care," Whitesides said before the vote.  "This pandemic has really pointed out what is happening to people in America today, who don't have the means. or people whose color is not white."  Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Amanda Edwards, and board chair Brownie Newman joined Whitesides in voting for the resolution.

Republicans voted against the resolution, in large part because they said Democrats on the board did not consult with them on the resolution's language.  Commissioner Anthony Penland voiced that concern during the meeting, accusing Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara of crafting the resolution with Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer last week in a roughly one-hour time frame.  "You want to repurpose the Vance Monument?," Penland said during the meeting.  "Put a 65-foot high cross in the center of downtown Asheville.  Because the only way we are going to heal this land is to look to our Almighty God and pray to him that we change people's hearts."  Commissioners Joe Belcher and Robert Pressley joined Penland in voting no.

A 2015 state law prevents the removal of monuments in public spaces unless they're moved to a 'site of similar prominence.'  Supporters of the resolution say the two monuments in question were paid for and erected by the UDC, and ownership of them has never transferred to the city or county, meaning the monuments are privately owned and therefore do not fall under that state law.  If the UDC does not remove the monuments in 90 days, then the city and county will do so.