Asheville’s Vance Monument is coming down.
At Asheville City Council’s meeting of March 23, members voted 6-1 to demolish the 75-foot obelisk named after Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance. “I’ve come to realize that the Vance Monument no longer reflects, and probably never reflected, the values of our community,” Mayor Esther Manheimer said. “I’m looking forward to the day we can have a centerpiece in our city that reflects Asheville today. And I’m proud to be part of the Council that will make this change.”
That change comes at a price: A $114,500 bid to remove the monument was awarded to Asheville contractor Chonzie. A separate $25,535 contract for temporary site restoration will go to Asheville-based MS Lean Landscaping.
After the monument is gone, the city will begin crafting a “comprehensive Community Vision document” to inform the future direction of its downtown plaza, costing up to $70,000. A planning phase to solicit public engagement will run through the fall, said Jade Dundas, Asheville’s public works director. The final report is expected to go before Council this winter.
In February, the joint city-county Vance Monument Task Force shared ideas for the future of Pack Square in its final recommendations to Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Task force members asked that a redesign include recognition of the Cherokee presence on the site before 1792, as well as “some measure of special recognition to the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality, including students, mentors and leaders and the desegregation they set in motion.”
The task force also created a list of over 100 Black citizens and notable events to incorporate into future site planning following the monument’s removal.
Council member Sandra Kilgore, one of the body’s three Black members, was the sole vote against the removal of the obelisk — or, as she called it, a “piece of art.” (Kilgore had previously written a commentary for the Jan. 27 issue of Xpress advocating for the monument to be repurposed.) In a series of emotional pleas to her colleagues, she recounted personal stories of racism and urged members to think about potential retaliatory violence white supremacy groups may inflict on Black residents.
“I hear comments from people saying this monument hurts Black people,” Kilgore said.
“And it hurts me every time they say that, because I’m not in pain. The people I know are not in pain. What pains me is seeing Black males out here who can’t get a job. It pains me when I see Black males having to go on the street and fight and kill each other over drugs and things like that to make a living to take care of their family. What hurts me is the health care system that does not apply to people that look like me. I truly believe what we’re looking at here will hurt Black people.”
In other news
James Carter, Jacquelyn Carr McHargue and Peyton O’Conner are the three newly appointed members of the Asheville City Board of Education. The decisions by Council mark an end to a contentious process that had netted significant criticism from the Asheville City Association of Educators and Asheville City Schools parents.
McHargue was the only consensus choice from the seven candidates Council had interviewed earlier in the day; she was also the only new member to have been endorsed by the ACAE. Council members Antanette Mosley and Gwen Wisler did not support Carter in an initial round of voting; O’Conner, whom only Sage Turner and Sheneika Smith had backed in the first round, was chosen as the third board member after Manheimer and Kim Roney offered their support in a second round of votes.
“We had amazing candidates, and it was really a tough decision,” Wisler said after the last votes were cast. “It’s a grueling process, and I want to thank all the people who went through it. And for the people who have served on the school board, thank you for your amazing years of service.”
McHargue is the dean of students at UNC Asheville. O’Conner works as the director of Buncombe County Recreation Services. Carter, the only incumbent to be reappointed, was first appointed to fill the term of outgoing member James Lee in 2019. Incumbents Joyce Brown and Patricia Griffin were not chosen for another term.