WRAL Investigates

Confederate statues may be gone, but they continue to cost local taxpayers

Posted November 12, 2021 7:21 p.m. EST

— Numerous Confederate statues have been toppled by protesters or removed by local governments across central North Carolina in recent years. But some continue to cost taxpayers money as officials try to figure out what to do with the monuments.

Chatham County, for example, has been paying $300 a month to the owner of a Greensboro warehouse to store a monument the Board of Commissioners voted to remove from outside the courthouse in Pittsboro two years ago.

"I’m sure the residents of Chatham County would rather have that money going to teachers and students and lunches and books, not to house a monument to the Confederacy," Durham attorney Scott Holmes said Friday.

Holmes, who has represented protesters who pulled down the "Silent Sam" statue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and another Confederate monument in Durham, said local governments don't really have a choice but to store the items.

A 2015 state law limits movements of publicly owned monuments.

"Unless the state government sued one of these local governments about these monuments, then, as a practical matter, nothing will happen," Holmes said. "No law will actually apply to force these local governments to do anything in particular with their monuments."

Chatham County officials argued the statue outside the courthouse is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and spokeswoman Kara Lusk Dudley said the county is still waiting on the UDC to find someplace for it.

"There have been no discussions about another location for the monument to date," Dudley said in an email to WRAL News.

UDC officials didn't respond to WRAL's request for comment.

UNC-Chapel Hill and Durham County officials likewise said they continue to store Confederate monuments, but at no cost. Neither the university nor the county has devised any plans for the statues.

"I think there’s no real push to do anything with it," said Robin Kirk, a cultural anthropology professor at Duke University who co-chaired the Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials.

In 2019, the group recommended displaying the crumpled statue indoors, along with information to put it into historical context.

"For me, it was really important that the conversation happened [and] less important, in some ways, what eventually happened with the artifacts," Kirk said.

Kirk said she's now more focused on what monuments Durham could add to its landscape to recognize important figures.

"One of the main people or groups that remains unacknowledged in our monumental landscapes are the mill workers, tobacco workers, weavers [and] textile workers who really built Durham from the ground up, and, to this day, we still have no site that really honors those [people]," she said.

Holmes said governments should seek out historic preservation groups or cemeteries willing to take the Confederate monuments.

"I would be looking for ... people who would be willing to accept these relics of that history in places where it is historically appropriate and trying my best to get them out of the custody of the state," he said.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 20 Confederate monuments were removed in North Carolina last year alone, but many more remain.

The Caswell County Board of Commissioners, for example, is expected to vote Monday on whether to remove a Confederate monument from the Yanceyville Town Square.

"They were really erected to celebrate the victory of white supremacy and the Jim Crow South," Holmes said. "It’s hard to justify their presence in front of courthouses morally, ethically and legally, and so, they should be removed."

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