Vance Monument Task Force gets to work

Vance Monument nameplate
IN A NAME: A joint Asheville-Buncombe County task force is 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

Downtown Asheville’s Vance Monument was dedicated in 1898, decades before anyone on the joint city-Buncombe County Vance Monument Task Force was born. The obelisk’s fate now stands in the group’s hands, and at its first meeting on Aug. 20, member Ben Scales suggested his colleagues should take the long view in their work. “I believe that what happens at the Vance site will have historical ramifications that will outlive us all,” he said.

But the task force has limited time to reach that long-lasting conclusion. Per the joint city and county resolution that established the group, a “recommendation regarding the removal and/or repurposing of the Vance Monument” must be delivered to Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners within three months of Aug. 4, when the final members were appointed.

Local governments established the task force in response to widespread protests calling for racial justice earlier this year. In addition to concerns about disparities in policing and economic opportunity for Black communities, demonstrators also objected to the downtown memorial for North Carolina’s Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance, a slave owner and avowed racist. For now, the monument is wrapped in a black plastic shroud intended to “reduce its impact on the community and to reduce the risk of harm it presents in its current state,” according to the city-county resolution.

Task force members unanimously appointed Oralene Simmons, a venerable civil rights leader and founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, and Antanette Mosley, a fifth-generation Asheville native and attorney, to serve as co-chairs. The group plans to meet weekly and gather extensive community input regarding the monument, as well as consult with other governmental advisory boards such as the African American Heritage Commission, Human Relations Commission of Asheville and Public Art and Cultural Commission.

Asheville City Attorney Brad Branham noted that the task force’s final recommendation must fall within the legal framework of North Carolina’s Cultural History Artifact Management and Patriotism Act, approved by the General Assembly in 2015. He said the law placed strict limits on what could be done with publicly owned “objects of remembrance” such as the Vance Monument. (No such limits applied to two other downtown Confederate monuments, owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that were removed in July.)

The group essentially has three options, Branham continued. The monument could be relocated, but only to a “place of similar prominence” within the same jurisdiction, likely to be interpreted as Asheville city limits. “[Pack Square] sets a pretty high bar for relocation,” he said. “You can’t move it to Montana.”

State law also allows monuments to be altered through renaming or the addition of contextual plaques. But permanent removal can only occur if a government official deems the monument a threat to public safety — a condition, Branham suggested, that may already have been satisfied through the very resolutions that established the task force.

Whatever the group’s final decision, said Simmons, the obelisk should not remain in its current state. “My ancestors were enslaved, and that caused me to take a closer look at the Vance Monument,” she said, recalling her experiences in the segregated Asheville of the 1950s and ’60s. “I would like to be a part of shaping the history and making a change so that others will not have to have that same feeling that I had as a child.”

With additional reporting by Molly Horak

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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12 thoughts on “Vance Monument Task Force gets to work

  1. izod

    Just get rid of it already. What a drawn out process to remove a pile of stone. Will you erect a new monument to “dressy-casual clothing” in it’s place, like a big Izod shirt made out of stone blocks?

  2. Bill Sack

    I my opinion their minds are made up and they are just going through the proverbial song and dance so as to give the apprance of doing all the right things to arrive at a just and proper decision and that is to tear it down as was intended in the first place…that monument. has just been restored several years ago and it didn’t offend anybody then or even before then to my knowledge and I doubt that rock monument has hurt anybody since it was put there…now if you were to look at the landscape of Asheville and surrounding area you could probably do enough research and tag a lot of property and buildings ect. that were or could have been built by former slaves or owners of former slaves maybe decedents of both….who knows how empty or barren it would look around here if things were torn down or removed simply because somebody thought they were offended by something they saw…Sure is a silly thing to go after a tall piece of rock these days…

    • James

      I’m offended by a monument dedicated to someone who participated in the killing of 120,00 US troops. But then I’m a patriotic American. not someone who clearly hates this country and its armed forces. I suppose you’d be ok with a “tall piece of rock” dedicated to Bin laden at the Pentagon, too?

  3. Harold

    Just take it down and replace it with a statue twice as large of any random tourist. A white tourist, of course. That’s what AVL is really about.

  4. Carolina

    Just rename it and dedicate it to something different. It’s not lime it looms like Vance in any way. It can be dedicated to lots of worthy things or people! Stop spending more and more money on a pile of rocks. Use the money toward helping people instead. I really hate how my tax dollars are being spent .

  5. Curious

    Will the commission consult with historians to assess the pros and cons of Vance’s public life?

    • James

      You mean the way we did with Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden before determining their fate?

  6. Martha Hillyer

    This iconic monument should remain where it is and repurposed to honor all people. If not all people then dedicate it to the mountains… the area we live in. After all, this has always been The Land of the Sky. Turning it into something that continues to divide people is ridiculous. I too think they have made up their mind and I am wasting my time.

  7. Charlie

    If I can think of any other ways that this can cost an even more ridiculous amount of wasted money I’ll be sure to let the city know asap, but looks like they’re doing fine without my input.

  8. Malcolm MillerJones

    This “NEW” movement to cancel/remove monuments etc. is out of control and not appreciated by the majority of citizens. Clever arguments are being put forward by organizations to take advantage of political and social agendas. We have lawful procedures in place to provide for hearings, arguments and discussions. Follow them and stop caving in to political pressure and violence!
    When a monument was erected I’m sure it went through a significant review, discussion and approval process. Honor those who persevered to erect the monument in the first place. However, times change and so do social and legal attitudes. In that view, consider leaving the monument alone and provide a plaque that provides a sentiment about it reflecting present day attitudes. This way we inform visitors and historians to the purpose and present perspectives.

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