Unanimous commission vote OKs Vance removal

Vance Monument
BYE-BYE: Asheville's Vance Monument may not stand in Pack Square much longer. The obelisk was covered with scaffolding and a shroud in July, until the Vance Monument Task Force reached a decision about the marker's fate. On Nov. 19, the body voted 11-1 for removal. Photo by Virginia Daffron

“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.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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15 thoughts on “Unanimous commission vote OKs Vance removal

  1. Liam

    So is the cost for removal coming out of the reparation monies to be taken from current day tax payers?

    • Currently, neither the city nor county have earmarked any funds for removal, nor have they provided an estimate of the removal cost. As noted in this piece, the Vance Monument Task Force believes that a significant amount towards removal could come from private foundations and/or the BCTDA.

      • NFB

        How does this fit in with the BCTDA’s supposed purpose of funding projects that will bring more tourists here? It certainly isn’t a part of the 75% of room tax dollars that had to go to advertising.

    • There doesn’t appear to be an organization called the Preservation Society of Western North Carolina. The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County (https://psabc.org/) was involved in the task force’s work, although I haven’t been able to find a formal public statement of their position.

      • North Asheville

        Should the Vance Monument be preserved?

        We at the Preservation Society have spent the last few months grappling with this complex question. Preservation of historic spaces is central to our mission, however we—along with much of the preservation community in this country—also believe that some monuments do warrant removal.

        Responses to our community survey about the future of the Vance Monument were clear: more than three quarters of the 300 responses called for change. A number of respondents even felt that removal of the monument was the only way to truly address the painful legacy of Vance and the many years of racial injustice that came before and after him. However, the majority called for a solution in which the structure remains, but is reinterpreted in a way that affirmatively supports racial justice and equality.

        The monument was designed by Richard Sharp Smith, one of Asheville’s most lauded architects. Beyond its architectural significance, we value the monument as a literal and figurative centerpoint of the city: a wayfinder and landmark; a gathering place for protests and collective actions; and a backdrop for countless individual memories in our city. We acknowledge that to some the monument represents a history of racial oppression, while to others, it represents an homage to an important local statesman. Yet we feel that the obelisk–distinct from a figurative monument–can readily be reinterpreted in a way that preserves its cultural legacy while breaking ties with the racist beliefs of Zebulon Vance and the state he led. The meaning of the monument can evolve to represent awakening, acknowledgement of complex histories, commitment to greater equality, and advancement of culture.

        We respect the task force and the decisions they are faced with over the coming weeks and months. We ask that they consider solutions that recontextualize the existing structure within our present moment, which remains plagued with racial injustice. If that cannot be readily accomplished, we would advocate either relocation of the monument or reuse of the materials on site. We hope for a solution that represents the inclusive and compassionate community we believe Asheville to be

        • Jessie Landl, executive director of the PSABC, told Xpress that commenter “North Asheville” does not speak for the organization but has taken language from a statement the organization made in October, soon after the Vance Monument Task Force was launched. She says the organization has not updated its stance toward the monument since then.

          • Fedup

            Then perhaps PSABC needs to step
            forward and defend this landmark and well known obelisk in Asheville. Stop with the racist excuses- can anyone actually prove slave we’re sold on that site? History reports Zebulon Vance himself was not a slave owner- rather his parents were the guilty ones.
            If this foolishness of spending thousands for the unnecessary purpose of destroying a piece of art and history to satisfy a few proceeds then we of all races must request removal of any and all publicly named streets or buildings honoring anyone of any race- black, white, Native American, etc. if we are going overboard let’s go all the way.
            Also, while the “ team” is determining financing destroying our 120 year old obelisk they can proceed with expense of renaming streets, schools, parks, even the name of Asheville.
            You must be fair if you’re taking this route; a foolish act to satisfy a few results in many expensive acts to satisfy the remainder of the citizens.

          • James

            Your response is the same as an hysterical teenager over-reacting with screeching hyperbole. Removing a statue to a racist traitor who took up arms against the United States doesn’t mean we have to hysterically call for the list you outline. You lost 155 years ago and you lost again. Get over it.

  2. Curious

    Does the recommendation intend to actually dismantle/destroy the monument or simply remove it intact to some other location, perhaps undisclosed?

    • Detailed logistics will be determined by the city and county. But I assume that “removal,” as distinct from “relocation” (one of the other options considered by the task force), would involve dismantling.

  3. DJ

    I am a lifelong resident of Asheville and wonder how many people supporting the removal of this monument are natives?
    Maybe the namesake offends most people, so rename it. I don’t care what you rename it — use it to honor those who died, use it to honor black people. Most of the beautiful old buildings and churches within the city of Asheville, along with the Vance monument were built by people or under conditions we could all be offended by. I would like to see the beauty of our city preserved and residents move progressively in more productive ways. So much energy is being wasted here on an old monument that could simply be used to honor something more appropriate. I feel certain that Asheville
    residents are divided on this decision, therefore renaming the monument could satisfy all.

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