Council votes 6-1 to proceed with Vance removal

Vance Monument nameplate
IN A NAME: A joint Asheville-Buncombe County task force was charged with determining the fate of the downtown Vance Monument, which honors North Carolina's Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance — a slaveholder and avowed racist. Photo courtesy of the city of Asheville

A city landmark. A place to celebrate and protest. A symbol of trauma and abuse. 

Asheville’s Vance Monument is seen as many different things to many different people — but soon, it won’t be seen at all. On Dec. 8, Asheville City Council voted 6-1 to move forward with the removal of the downtown obelisk, which memorializes Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance

Since August, the volunteer Vance Monument Task Force have met weekly to determine the monument’s fate, explained Oralene Simmons, task force co-chair. The team, jointly appointed by the city and Buncombe County, held engagement sessions with community members most impacted by the marker’s presence and read through over 1,000 emails, texts and voicemail messages as they considered three different options for the controversial monument: removal, relocation or repurposing. 

After 12 weeks of deliberations, the task force voted 11-1 on Nov. 19 to recommend the monument’s removal. On Dec. 7, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept that recommendation

“This was hard, laborious work,” said Council member Antanette Mosley, who briefly served as a task force co-chair before her appointment to Council in September. “Based on some of the emails I’ve received, it seems that people have jumped to the conclusion that simply because you are from a certain race, it means you are predisposed to a certain outcome. And your work illustrates that that is not the case.” 

When it was time to vote, Mosley led the charge. “As the descendant of those enslaved in this area and very likely auctioned off at that very spot, it is with great pride that I move we accept the task force recommendation,” she said. 

“In the same spirit, I second that,” echoed Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith, who had been elected to that post by her colleagues earlier in the evening. 

Sandra Kilgore, new to Council as the top finisher in November’s election, was the only member to oppose the task force recommendation. In her remarks, she explained that repurposing the monument was more likely to bring an already divided community back together. 

“This monument represents a dark time in our history, but it was our history,” said Kilgore, who is one of Council’s three Black members alongside Mosley and Smith. “Maybe we could find some type of consensus to come together and build on that history, where we could actually change the complexion and make it a monument for all people with inclusion and equity.” 

Although ultimately voting to accept the recommendation, member Gwen Wisler shared concerns about the potential cost of removal and the current lack of any plan for what might go in the monument’s place. “I’m concerned that this might become the Pit of Despair all over again,” she said, referencing a much-disputed city property at the corner of Haywood Street and Page Avenue. 

And Council newcomer Sage Turner noted that in all of the comments she received in the lead up to the vote, not one community member had advocated to leave Vance’s name on the monument. “There wasn’t any momentum I received that wanted to continue to pay homage to this particular individual and that history. I think that alone is in itself the community coming together, and it’s a great first step,” she said. 

Initially, Council had only planned to hear a report on the task force’s recommendations without taking a vote or public comment. A last-minute agenda change, announced by Mayor Esther Manheimer at 5:30 p.m. the night before the meeting, brought the item to a vote “to try and mirror the process the county was using,” she clarified. 

The city and county will now work together to determine the next steps, including the costs and logistics for removal. The task force has identified several alternative funding sources, including The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project, though a cost estimate has not been drafted. 

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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6 thoughts on “Council votes 6-1 to proceed with Vance removal

  1. Curious

    Is the recommendation to “remove” or to “tear down?” If the monument is removed, where will it go?

    • bsummers

      The three possibilities the Commission looked at were “removal, relocation, or re-purposing.” So no, it looks like removal means tear it down.

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  2. bsummers

    I don’t believe that there’s anyone in Asheville today who truly feels a connection to Zebulon Vance, worthy of a massive, permanent monument in the center of the public square. Rather, what little reaction to the prospect of removing it has been a “This Is Ours And They’re Trying To Take It Away” response.

    The potential benefit of making a strong statement in favor of turning the corner on race relations in this country, has to outweigh whatever nostalgia or “This Is Ours” sentiment in favor of keeping the monument.

    Good luck, Asheville.

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  3. Enlightened Enigma

    After revering this monument with a $250K refurbish just a few years ago, perhaps we simply refresh and modernize it by covering it in (real) stucco, and voila’ the Unity Tower ….cost effective and purposeful.

  4. Richard B.

    I only wish there were more intelligent, rational, and reasonable Council members like Ms. Kilgore. Her vote shows courage.
    Her statement indicates an ability to think and arrive at conclusions on a level unattainable for the other members.
    Acknowledging the reasons for distaste for the monument representing Mr. Vance, she eloquently speaks of bringing
    Community citizens together, not acting out of cowardice, or bowing to group think, but of a passion for doing the right thing.

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  5. Emily

    I wish the public could read the committee report and all the public emails too, as it seems this should be preserved for part of the city’s history.. I would have thought that paying minority and young artists to complete panels for an overlay project and allowing them to rename the monument would have given artists recognition, money and power. Anyone know if the committee asked the NC Historically Black Universities and Colleges to submit repurposing ideas? I just thought Asheville was creative enough to do something unique. Like Kilgore, I was hoping for a more than destruction. In 2019 I was in Warsaw and appreciated overlay art on old structures to give historical context to historic suffering and modern change.

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