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Durham committee offers recommendations for future of toppled Confederate statue

After a Confederate monument in downtown Durham was pulled down by protesters in the summer of 2017, a committee of Durham residents has produced a report with recommendations about the future of the crumpled statue and its remaining base.

The recommendations include moving the "irreparably damaged" statue's body inside the nearest building and adding additional arts elements to the remaining base to commemorate Union soldiers and enslaved African Americans. 

“Durham is the only municipality that has asked its own citizens to think deeply about this and come up with recommendations," said Robin Kirk, co-chair of the committee and faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center.

The statue, originally constructed in 1924 and located about a mile from East Campus, was toppled in August 2017. It was a statue of a Confederate soldier on top of a base, which was engraved with the phrase "In memory of 'The boys who wore the gray.'" The toppling came in the wake of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., that summer. 

The committee was formed by a joint commission of the city and county of Durham to gather community input and provide recommendations about the future of the monument, as well as to catalogue other Confederate monuments in the community. 

The group consisted of 12 total members, including Kirk and co-chair Charmaine McKissick-Melton, associate professor in the department of mass communication at North Carolina Central University. Deondra Rose, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, was also on the committee from Duke. 

Kirk said the group was created in early 2018 and conducted a series of community meetings over the course of several months. Some of the meetings brought in speakers, some were specifically for public discussion. 

“Sometimes people had very different views, but it was remarkable that, for the most part, the discussions were extremely civil and forward-looking," Kirk said. "All of that was compiled for this report and informed the recommendations."

The report, which the committee agreed to by consensus, explains the reasoning behind the committee's recommendations. By moving the statue into a nearby building and placing it out of the way, the committee aimed to reduce the security issues the report posited would be likely to come with the statue being displayed publicly.

The committee noted the statue should be placed somewhere that did not require for employees in the building to pass by it everyday if they did not want to, but would allow for it to be seen by those who wanted access to it.

For the base, the committee recommended adding two other pillars to it. And if the 2015 state law restricting the movement of memorials located on government property is ever lifted, the committee suggested moving the installation to a city-owned cemetery—specifically Maplewood or Beechwood.

The latter suggestion drew the ire of a county commissioner. 

James Hill, vice-chairman of the the Durham County Board of Commissioners, compared placing the base of the Confederate statue in the predominately black cemetery of Beechwood to placing a monument for Nazi soldiers in a Jewish cemetery when the report was presented Tuesday morning, according to the News and Observer. Kirk criticized the use of that reference, she told The Chronicle Thursday afternoon, saying that it was a distraction from the rest of the report. 

The decision about what to do with the recommendation is now up to the local government, Kirk said. 

“Overall the response was very positive. I encourage people to read the report. It is very detailed, it is very deep," Kirk said. "We understand that the people reading the report now did not go through the process that we went through, so maybe some of the recommendations may seem a little novel. But they were all very deeply grounded in the discussions that we had with the public and with each other."

Xinchen Li contributed reporting


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