“We know this is a decision that will not fit everyone’s preference,” said Oralene Simmons, a co-chair of the Vance Monument Task Force, as she presented to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 7. The volunteer body, jointly appointed by the county and city of Asheville, had recommended that a controversial obelisk dedicated to Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance be removed from downtown.
But the voices of the commissioners were not divided as they unanimously agreed to accept the task force’s recommendation. Because the monument stands on city property, Asheville City Council will have the ultimate say; Council is expected to take that vote at its regular meeting on Dec. 8.
Simmons and fellow co-chair Deborah Miles explained that the task force had conducted engagement with over 1,000 people by email, text and voice message during 12 weeks of deliberations. They said their work had been particularly shaped by the comments of young people, whom they noted would live longest with the consequences of the decision.
Miles added that, while the task force had considered relocating the monument, it had decided that such a move would introduce its own problems. “One central concern is that [relocation sites] could become pilgrimage sites for those who venerate the memory of the many aspects of the Confederacy and its current neo-Confederate admirers.”
Although all seven commissioners backed the removal recommendation, each shared a different reasoning behind their vote. Democrat Parker Sloan, who had been sworn in to the board earlier that day, was the only member to explicitly condemn the monument’s namesake: “I don’t think that a monument to that person, to Zebulon Vance, is appropriate or ethical,” he said.
Fellow Democrat and new member Terri Wells took a more conciliatory tone. “Many prefer removal, and some prefer repurposing,” she acknowledged, while suggesting that most residents shared the same end goal: “an educational space that tells the truth and an inclusive narrative that is a reflection of our entire community.”
And Robert Pressley, the board’s only Republican and the only current member to have voted against the resolution establishing the task force, took pains to clarify that the county was only accepting a recommendation and did not have the final call over the monument. “The main thing I want the public to know is that we didn’t make a decision and we will not make the decision what happens,” he emphasized.
The county will work with city officials on next steps, including logistical and funding support for removal, noted board Chair Brownie Newman. Miles suggested that funding sources beyond the county and city, including The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, could be tapped to pay for the work, although the task force did not provide a cost estimate.