Reality Check: Why local governments need permission to move Confederate monuments

WNC has 13 Civil War monuments. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

With debate raging across America over Confederate monuments, local governments in North Carolina cannot remove their monuments without permission.

Some 13 Civil War monuments stand in Western North Carolina, according to the state's Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Monuments include Franklin's memorial for 300 Macon County Confederate soldiers who died in the war. It was dedicated in 1909.

"This is the only grave site that these 300 families have to go to," said Robert Shook, Macon County Historical Museum's curator.

People in Sylva and Franklin said they've heard discussion about monuments, but nobody's seen movement.

State law forbids it. A law passed in 2015 states, "An object of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed ..."

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, a spokesperson for the North Carolina Historical Commission, said the law means a town, city or county would need help from a legislator to move a Confederate monument.

"They'd need to request a local bill to get permission from the General Assembly," Van Duyn said.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

"I am embarrassed to tell you that I voted for that. I deeply regret that vote. At the time, there was really context for it," said Van Duyn.

The law does not include any mention of Confederate monuments. The Senate voted on it two months before the Charleston shootings. The house voted after the shooting, passing it down party lines. The Charleston shooting ignited a debate about Confederate symbols -- a debate that continues today.

"Do I have to change my name because my last name is Davis? Does that offend them," asked Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon County .

Davis was one of the bill's primary sponsors.

"We just thought it was important to preserve history," Davis said.

He said he was concerned about all monuments and doesn't think Confederate memorials should come down.

While the law applies to "objects of remembrance," the state does not consider the Vance Monument and Robert E. Lee plaque in Asheville Confederate monuments. Buncombe County has two Confederate monuments: One outside the courthouse and one in Newton Academy Cemetery. Van Duyn isn't calling for them to be taken down, but she does think they should be discussed.

"For too long, though, we have neglected to consider what they represent to African-Americans. So, it's very appropriate that we reexamine these monuments in light of that. But, at the same time, we don't want to swing the pendulum so much the other way that we also don't consider what they mean to other people," Van Duyn said.

She plans to file a bill to give control over relocation or removal of monuments to local governments. If a monument is on state property, then it cannot be moved or changed without approval from the state's Historical Commission.

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