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 March 24, 2024

North Carolina Supreme Court won't seek to remove Civil War governor's monument

North Carolina's highest court declined Friday to revive a challenge to Asheville city leaders' decision to remove a downtown monument honoring a Civil War-era governor in 2021. This is a big win for conservatives who have been fighting liberal activists attempting to deface monuments to American history.

The state Supreme Court unanimously agreed that it was appropriate to dismiss legal claims filed by a historic preservation group that had aided in fundraising efforts to restore the 75-foot (23-meter) tall Zebulon Vance obelisk during the 2010s.

The background

The Asheville City Council voted to dismantle the downtown monument due to public safety concerns in the months following demonstrations over racial justice and George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer in early 2020.

According to the opinion, the monument, erected in 1897, had been vandalized, and the city had received threats of its potential toppling.

The Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops opposed the removal and sued, but a trial judge dismissed the lawsuit.

The obelisk was dismantled before the Court of Appeals ordered the city and Buncombe County to halt the demolition while appeals were heard. However, the monument base remained in place. Friday's decision is expected to permit the removal of the base.

The restoration project

In 2022, the Court of Appeals upheld Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg's dismissal. The three-judge panel unanimously agreed that while the society had partnered with the city for the restoration project and had raised over $138,000, the contract did not obligate the city to maintain the obelisk indefinitely.

Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr., writing Friday's opinion, challenged the Court of Appeals ruling that dismissed the society's breach of contract claim due to lack of legal standing to initiate it.

as the society did not argue the merits of its contract claim to the justices, Berger deemed the issue abandoned.

“Therefore, plaintiff has failed to assert any ground for which it has standing to contest removal of the monument,” Berger wrote, affirming Thornburg's dismissal of the society's remaining claims.

About Vance

Zebulon Vance, born in Buncombe County, served as governor from 1862 to 1865 and 1877 to 1879. He also held roles as a Confederate military officer and U.S. senator. The city noted that the monument stood on a site believed to have been where enslaved people were once sold.

The removal of the Vance monument was among several Confederate statues and memorials taken down across the South in recent years, including one in Winston-Salem. Litigation over the removal of that monument by a Civil War history group also reached the state Supreme Court and was referenced in legal briefs in the Asheville case.

A Court of Appeals panel this week also upheld Alamance County commissioners' decision not to remove a Confederate monument outside the historic local courthouse there.

Written By:
Dillon Burroughs

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