President Price announces space where Robert E. Lee statue stood will remain empty

President Vincent Price announced Thursday afternoon that the space in front of the Duke Chapel where a statue of Robert E. Lee previously stood will remain empty.

A plaque explaining the absence will be added in the Chapel's foyer to explain the empty space.

"It will provide a powerful statement about the past, the present and our values," he wrote to the Duke community Thursday.

The decision to leave the space vacant comes a year after the statue was removed last summer. It was taken down August 19 after the facial area was vandalized. The statue had been there since 1932. 

The statue became a touchstone of controversy in the wake of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last year. After it was removed, Price convened the Commission on Memory and History, which recommended leaving the space open for a period of time to engage in conversation with the Duke community on the issue. 

In the year since the statue came down, a symposium hosted by Provost Sally Kornbluth discussed the topic of “American Universities, Monuments, and the Legacies of Slavery" and a Bass Connections team studied representation and memory on Duke's campus. 

Price wrote that he has heard numerous suggestions of people whose likeness should fill that space, but also heard from individuals who feel the period of emptiness should be extended. Dean of the Chapel Luke Powery suggested the empty space could represent “a hole that is in the heart of the United States of America, and perhaps in our own human hearts—that hole that is from the sin of racism and hatred of any kind.” 

"I have concluded that Dean Powery’s suggestion is the right one, particularly when combined with the placement of a plaque in the foyer of Duke Chapel that explains why the space is empty," Price wrote.

Price stated that he told the Board of Trustees his decision over the summer, and received their "enthusiastic endorsement."

Looking forward, Price said he is asking the President’s Art Advisory Committee to find appropriate methods to recognize the individuals' whose labor built the campus and were the "foundation of wealth that created Duke University." 

As the Bass Connections memory project suggested, he is requesting the Committee to recommend appropriate means to recognize the first African-American students to attend Duke. 

Executive Vice President Tallman Trask will be tasked with finding a location for rotating exhibits about the University's history. 

"As we begin this new semester, I hope these actions will help us build on the work of faculty, students, staff, and administrators who responded to the challenge of last August by learning, debating, and advocating for Duke to more fully live up to its values," Price wrote. "We all share in this vitally important ongoing work, and I look forward to participating in the years ahead."

Check back for updates to this developing story.


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