News: Quick Takes

House Democrats looking to repeal law behind Silent Sam, Confederate monument debate

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional comments. 

Much of the controversy surrounding Silent Sam can be traced to a 2015 law protecting historical monuments from removal or relocation without official approval. Some Democratic lawmakers aim to resolve the controversy by heading straight to the source.

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford; Rep. Evelyn Terry, D-Forsyth, and Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, are primary sponsors of House Bill 10, which would officially repeal the 2015 law relating to historical monuments.

“We filed this bill to return the right to localities to make decisions regarding monuments,” Morey said. “Based on what happened in Durham and Chapel Hill, for citizen safety and security expenses, I believe localities should should have final say over location or removal of monuments.”

SL 2015-170, or the Cultural History Artifact Management and Patriotism Act of 2015, says a “monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the state may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the N.C. Historical Commission.” If a monument wasn’t originally sitting in a museum, cemetery, or mausoleum, it can’t be moved to one of those locations, the law says.

The 2015 law can partially explain why the debate over the future of Silent Sam has been so complicated. The Confederate monument once called UNC-Chapel Hill home before protesters toppled it last year. Silent Sam was moved to storage while university administrators determined what to do with the statue.

While faculty, students, and community activists have been clear they don’t want Silent Sam back on campus, the 2015 law requires the monument to return to a place of similar prominence. The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt floated the idea of building a $5.3 million historical center on campus to house the statue, but the UNC Board of Governors rejected the idea. The BOG has a five member task force charged with devising a new plan for Silent Sam that complies with the law.

Morey said she hopes there will be bipartisan support for the bill.

“This should not be a political issue,” Morey said.

Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Granville, is opposed to repealing SL 2015-170.

“The 2015 Law protecting monuments and memorials is the only thing preventing a rush to judgment on an issue that is very divisive,” Yarborough said. “I am open to discussing and taking some action with monuments in the future.”

The Republican lawmaker said there should be a reasonable amount of discussion before moving statues in place for more than 100 years.

“I am very opposed to the opinion of a majority or minority running roughshod over the opinion of another majority or minority,” Yarborough said. “I am vehemently opposed to allowing a mob to decide these issues.”