DURHAM, N.C. — A crumpled Confederate statue that was damaged when protesters toppled it would go back on display inside a historic courthouse under the latest proposal by North Carolina officials to deal with monuments increasingly decried by protesters as racist symbols.
A Durham city-county government committee proposed Tuesday to move the statue indoors from the building's grounds and leave unrepaired the damage that includes a crumpled head, bent legs and a twisted rifle. The county Board of Commissioners would have to approve the plan.
"It is just not salvageable, but it is a historical artifact of the times when it was created, and in its current state, is a historical artifact of how it came down. It has additional meaning in other words in its current state," said Robin Kirk, who co-chaired the study committee.
The proposal — which was denounced by a Confederate descendants' group — is the latest move in an ongoing debate about what to do with North Carolina's many Confederate monuments on public property. Another statue was toppled at the state's flagship public university in 2018, and Winston-Salem city officials recently called for a downtown statue there to be moved. North Carolina is among three Southern states with the most Confederate markers on public land. A North Carolina tally shows that around 50 of them stand at contemporary or historic courthouses.
Critics argue many Confederate statues were built decades after the Civil War to promote white supremacy. Supporters counter that the monuments are simply memorials to ancestors who fought and died protecting their homes.
The Durham statue was torn down in 2017 by protesters reacting to a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. One protester climbed a ladder to attach a rope while others on the ground yanked it down. The bronze likeness of an anonymous uniformed soldier had stood since 1924 in front of the historic courthouse that now holds Durham County offices. It's currently in storage.
Authorities initially charged 12 protesters with toppling the statue, but none were convicted. A judge dismissed two cases and acquitted a third defendant, and the prosecutor dropped charges against the others.
Tuesday's proposal calls for placing the statue in a hallway of the old courthouse with written passages to contextualize it. Noting an indoor location would be more secure, the committee recommended somewhere accessible to the public, but out of the way so people who could avoid it if they wished. Additional outdoor markers honoring Union soldiers and enslaved people would be added to the still-standing granite pedestal that once held the statue.
The North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans issued a statement arguing that state law requires the statue to be repaired and restored. The group contends that under the plan, "the crumpled metal, like some kind of perverse trophy for illegal behavior, will be 'contextualized' with historical inaccuracies and lies about its meaning and origin."
The Durham proposal came a day after a Winston-Salem city council meeting where residents spoke in favor of moving a Confederate statue away from an old courthouse building that's now privately owned. Winston-Salem officials recently told the United Daughters of the Confederacy to move the statue or risk legal action.
Meanwhile, the board that oversees the state's public university system is debating the fate of a Confederate statue torn down by protesters last year at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Campus trustees had proposed spending $5 million on a history center to house the statue, but that plan was rejected late last year.
Such efforts are complicated by a 2015 state monuments law that largely prohibits moving Confederate monuments on public land, except in narrow circumstances.
The Durham committee consulted with lawyers and noted the law doesn't include specific requirements for damaged monuments. Still, panel co-chair Charmaine McKissick-Melton told reporters that keeping the statue at the old courthouse honors the law.
"It's in the same building and destination. We thought that was close enough," she said.
A protester acquitted of helping tear down the Durham statue — but now charged in the UNC toppling — attended Tuesday's meeting and dismissed the new proposal as an attempt to appease pro-Confederate groups.
"That statue should be thrown in the trash," said Raul Jimenez.