Cooper administration files to move Confederate monuments from Capitol

Gov. Roy Cooper wants to move three Confederate statues from the State Capitol grounds to the Bentonville Battlefield historic site in Johnston County.

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Travis Fain
RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper's administration formally petitioned the state's Historical Commission Friday in an effort to remove three Confederate monuments from the Capitol grounds in downtown Raleigh.

Cooper wants to move the statues 45 miles south to the Bentonville Battlefield historic site in Johnston County.

A state law passed in 2015 to protect Confederate monuments and other "objects of remembrance" restricts what the state can do, even with consent from the Commission, which is slated to meet Sept. 22.

The law says no state-owned monuments or works of art can be removed without its approval, but it also lays out rules for when the commission does allow changes. Monuments can be relocated only "when appropriate measures are required by the state" to preserve them or when removal is needed to make room for construction.

In its petition, the administration argues that this move indeed is needed "to ensure the monuments' preservation."

There's a full prohibition in the law against moving monuments to a museum, cemetery or mausoleum unless they were originally placed at one. Also, any movement requires monuments to be relocated "to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated," the law states.

The administration argues that Bentonville, the site of the largest Civil War battle in North Carolina, fits these requirements.

State Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, who co-sponsored the 2015 monument protection law, said his understanding of the law is that the Historical Commission has the power to approve removal of the State Capitol monuments. That doesn't mean it should in this case, he said.

"I think that we ought to preserve history and remember it," Davis said. "We have a checkered past in America and all the things that have gone on we are not proud of. ... And I think, before we remove these historical monuments of any kind, that we ought to do our due diligence and examine what we're doing it for."

The three statues at the Capitol that Cooper's administration wants to move are The 1895 Confederate Monument, The Henry Lawson Wyatt Monument and The North Carolina Women of the Confederacy Monument. The petition notes that the Capitol grounds are sometimes referred to as "Union Square."

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