Speakers urge 3 Confederate monuments be left at NC Capitol
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Vietnam veteran brought up a name from the past, “Hanoi Jane,” as he spoke in favor of keeping three Confederate monuments on North Carolina’s Capitol grounds. Some of those who want the monuments moved described Confederates as traitors, bringing some stifled “boos” from the crowd.
But that was as raucous as the public meeting got as about 60 people addressed a committee that will make the first of what’s likely to be several recommendations about whether to move the monuments from the Capitol grounds to Bentonville Battlefield, a Civil War site about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Raleigh.
When a society starts moving monuments, “the question must be asked: Where does it stop? What is the criteria for doing that?” asked Boyd Cathey of Wendell, the former state registrar.
Speakers were addressing a five-member committee of the state Historical Commission. The panel plans to report on the proposal next month to the full state commission, which makes the decision on Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal to move the monuments to the Bentonville battlefield site in Johnston County.
The monuments include the 75-foot (22-meter) monument completed in 1895 to the state’s Confederate dead. The others are the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy Monument, dedicated in 1914, and the statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, dedicated in 1912. Wyatt is described on the statue’s base as the first Confederate soldier killed in action during the Civil War.
Cooper requested that the statues be moved after two events: a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the toppling of a Confederate statue outside a Durham County government building by demonstrators. But a 2015 state law approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly prevents the permanent removal of most Confederate monuments on state and local property without legislative approval. It also severely limits their relocation.
Dennis Johnson of Willow Spring said it’s stupid to move the monuments. “I can’t believe we’ve got a governor that would even consider that,” he said. “It’s not just wrong. It’s against the law.”
After his 60 seconds of speaking time elapsed, Richard Foy of Raleigh continued talking and was directed back to his seat. As he walked, the Vietnam veteran continued talking, mentioning “Hanoi Jane,” a reference to actress Jane Fonda’s controversial visit with the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. He also spoke about Russia’s Vladimir Putin, dysfunctional politicians and others.
He was followed by Emily Keel of Robersonville, the 14th speaker, who was the first to support moving the monuments.
The Civil War monuments “are relics of another time,” she said. “What we display now to the public should be our current principles and aspirations of North Carolina citizens.”
She said she initially wanted the monuments destroyed, but now believes they should be moved “so their context can be explained and so that we can learn from history.”
The last few speakers came out most stridently for the move — or removal — of the monuments, including Joanne Clayton, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton.
Everyone knows slavery was wrong, she said. “And they want to be proud of ancestors’ fairy tales about the Confederacy,” she said. “The reality is slavery was wrong. The Confederates were traitors. And we have statues to traitors that need to be removed.”
Far fewer people signed up to speak than expected, and the comments ended an hour earlier than schedule. That could be because people have had a chance to give their opinions online, where committee chair David Ruffin said more than 4,300 comments have been posted about moving the three monuments.
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