North Carolina appeals court upholds ruling that kept Confederate monument in place

RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina appeals court ruled Tuesday that local leaders who refused calls to remove a Confederate monument from outside a county courthouse acted constitutionally and kept the statue in place at its old location in accordance with the state law.

The three-judge panel unanimously affirmed a district court judge’s decision to side with Alamance County and its commissioners over the 30-foot statue, which features a Confederate infantryman at the top. The state NAACP, the Alamance NAACP chapter and other groups and individuals had sued the county and its leaders in 2021 after commissioners rejected calls to take down the statue.

Confederate monuments in North Carolina, as elsewhere in the country, were often a focal point of protests against racial inequality in the late 2010s, and especially in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. North Carolina lawmakers passed a law in 2015 that limits when a “commemorative object,” such as a military monument, can be moved.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs said the county and commissioners violated the state Constitution by exercising discriminatory intent to protect a symbol of white supremacy outside the historic Alamance County Courthouse, creating the appearance of racial bias there.

In the opinion, Chief Judge Chris Dillon of the Court of Appeals wrote that the county commissioners did not have the authority to remove the statue under the 2015 law. He also said the county manager’s email to commissioners in June 2020 asking them to consider removing the monument out of concern for the safety of protesters did not qualify for an exception to that law.

“At all times, the Landmarks Protection Act required the county to leave the monument in its current location,” Dillon wrote. He added that a provision in the state constitution intended to ensure state courts are open to the public does not prohibit the placing of objects of historical memory in and around a courthouse. The courthouse monument was dedicated in 1914.

“Indeed, many courthouses and other government buildings across our state and nation contain images of historical figures who held views in their time that many today would find offensive,” Dillon wrote.

Justices Donna Stroud and Valerie Zachary joined in the opinion.

Even with the 2015 law, Confederate monuments in North Carolina have been taken down in recent years, sometimes violently.

In 2018, protesters tore down a Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Statues of soldiers from the North Carolina Confederate Monument on the old Capitol grounds in Raleigh came down in June 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper, citing public safety, ordered the remainder of the monument and two others on the Capitol grounds removed.

The state Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit stemming from a 2021 decision by the Asheville City Council to dismantle an obelisk honoring Civil War Governor Zebulon Vance.