Removal of state monuments back in the spotlight

Removal of state monuments back in the spotlight

Dr. Valerie Johnson

Public hearing scheduled for next week

This week the North Carolina Historical Commission’s Confederate Monuments Study Committee scheduled a forum to hear public comments on moving three monuments from the State Capitol grounds.

In its Monday afternoon teleconference meeting, the committee set the forum for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21. The meeting will be held in the first-floor auditorium of the Archives and History/State Library Building at 109 E. Jones St. in downtown Raleigh. Speaker registration will begin at 12:30 p.m.

Last September the full historical commission put off a decision on removing three Confederate monuments from the State Capitol grounds. Instead, the commission formed a task force to study the politically fraught issue, which the North Carolina General Assembly dropped into their laps with a 2015 law that makes it more difficult to remove such statues.

The committee consists of:

  • Chris Fonvielle, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
  • Valerie Johnson, the Mott Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies and Director of Africana Women’s Studies at Greensboro’s Bennett College and chair of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.
  • Noah Reynolds, a real estate investor and entrepreneur and trustee of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
  • Sam Dixon, an attorney and preservation advocate from Edenton.
  • David Ruffin, a banker and chairman of the commission.

Part of the committee’s charge is getting input from historical experts and legal advice from the law schools at Duke University, Elon University, N.C. Central, UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, Campbell University and from the UNC School of government. It has also set up a web portal to take public comment on the issue.

In an Tuesday interview, Johnson said the committee knew it had to create a live public forum to hear public comment as well. But finding a way for the public to comment in an open forum while staying respectful and productive was a challenge, she said.

“I don’t expect people to agree with each other, but I do expect people to be respectful,” Johnson said. “The passion on this issue ebbs and flows, but until there’s some resolution there’s still going go be people with strong feelings.”

“It’s really bigger than the removal of three monuments,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about how we’re going to go forward with each other with a complex, convoluted, contested history. We haven’t all experienced this the same way. So how to we deal with it as a community?”

To keep speakers on topic and set parameters for the public forum, the committee voted on 11 rules on Monday. They are:

  1. The Study Committee public hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
  2. Members of the Study Committee may attend the public hearing in person or electronically.
  3. The Study Committee Chairman may extend the meeting for an additional one hour until 4:30 p.m. if he determines additional time is needed.
  4. Speakers must sign in using their name and hometown.
  5. Speakers shall be allowed to speak for one minute and a red warning card shall be held up after 30 seconds has passed.
  6. Speakers shall be invited to speak in the order they have signed up on a list to be kept by a staff member assigned by Dr. Kevin Cherry. However, the Study Committee Chairman may in his discretion ask for comments representing another view if it appears that the Study Committee has not heard speakers representing various viewpoints.
  7. The speakers shall address the full Study Committee and shall not direct comments or questions to individual members.
  8. The Study Committee hearing is limited to comments about monuments on the Capitol Square in Raleigh and not about monuments in other locations including the Silent Sam monument in Chapel Hill.
  9. No applause or other noises or clapping shall be allowed or tolerated before, during or after any speaker. Individuals in attendance who violate this rule will first be warned and then removed from the audience if a second violation occurs.
  10. If those wanting to speak are lined up outside the auditorium and there is insufficient space to allow their entrance into the auditorium, then after each speaker completes their one-minute remarks that speaker will be asked to leave the auditorium and, if they agree, any individual waiting to speak will be seated in the order they signed up.
  11. The public will be notified of these rules, both on the DNCR and Historical Commission website, and by meeting attendees being given a copy of the rules.

Some may find the rules constricting, Johnson said, but they’re meant to keep the public to the topic at hand and allow the committee to hear comment on the actual issue before them even as the struggle continues on the larger issues around it.

“For us, this is a listening session,” Johnson said. “But it’s not a bully pulpit – folks have to be concise, come to their point and why they feel that way and we have to be able to move to the next person.”

Johnson has been one of the most vocal members of the commission and its study committee, making it clear she supports removing the monuments.

Most commission members have declined to go on record about the issue but a few, like Johnson, have spoken openly on the confederate monument issue from their perspectives as academics and historians.

“So far it’s been very collegial,” Johnson said of the overall process this week. “So far folks have been very respectful. I think the chair has been good in the way he’s let us all air what we need to air and it’s been very collaborative.”

“I’m hopeful that it will continue to be collaborative,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how we’ll go forward if it isn’t. I’m expecting that we’re going to have to work toward some sort of consensus ultimately – and that can always be a challenge.”

About the author

Joe Killian, Investigative Reporter, joined N.C. Policy Watch in August of 2016. His work takes a closer look at government, politics and policy in North Carolina and their impact on the lives of everyday people. Before joining Policy Watch, Joe spent a decade at the News & Record in Greensboro, reporting on everything from cops and courts to higher education. He covered the city councils of High Point and Greensboro and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners before becoming the paper’s full-time government and politics reporter. His work has also appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal, Go Triad, the Bristol Press in Bristol, Conn., and the Cape Cod Times in Hyannis, Mass.
[email protected]