Vance Monument Task Force recommends removal

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

Members of the Vance Monument Task Force voted 11-1 on Nov. 19 to remove the monument from the center of downtown Asheville, marking an end to 12 weeks of intense public comment and community division. 

Task force co-chair Oralene Simmons led the roll-call vote for three different options: removal, relocation or repurposing. Member Ben Scales was the only member to support repurposing. 

Since August, the task force has received more than 600 public comments, ranging from impassioned support for immediately removing the Confederate marker to outright fury that anyone would consider moving an important city landmark.

“We have taken a journey together over the last 12 weeks,” Simmons said in her remarks after the vote. “We’ve had many meetings, spent hours planning and gathering data, seeking input and evaluating facts. We accomplished a lot by listening and learning from each other with dignity and respect.” 

The task force recommendation will likely go before the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on Monday, Dec. 7, and Asheville City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 8. The task force was only charged with deciding the disposition of the monument; if its recommendation is adopted by the two governing bodies, Council and Commission will determine logistics and funding for removal. 

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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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41 thoughts on “Vance Monument Task Force recommends removal

  1. AshevilleBill

    The monument was put up by people that wanted it. Those people are gone. Enough people are now requesting it be removed. The actions and life of Vance were thought to be worthy of a monument. Now his actions are seen as hurtful. The city and its monuments are the province of the people living here now. Some changes hurt but that’s just the way it is.

    • Roger

      There are not enough people involved in choosing to do what is recommended by a small group of citizens; and one person’s judgment about what is hurtful [or even the judgment of a few thousand] is not a reflection of a majority of the People. It would be advisable to look forward, rather than backward. This movement on the part of a certain political faction represents a minority of the overall population; and as such, the decision should be put to the People of Buncombe Country as a referendum, and not as an act of one political party or the other. Many have called for a constructive approach, to contextualize the structure, rather than the destructive one so recommended. Thus, this minority of activists who seek such change is ill-advised and altogether undemocratic in spirit. It might hurt more to let a small group decide what to do in this matter, more than it would if a democratic approach were taken to decide what will be done to any historical structure within the limits of the county seat.

      • L r

        Thank you for your reply! This is the most logical solution offered to date. A small group who appear o be bonded have turned harsh feelings and even hatred toward an inanimate object which is actually a beautiful asset to a city which has lost so much. Why destroy this obelisk? If the name offends the group- remove it.
        The city government of Asheville needs to slow down and take a serious look at the harm being done to a once attractive, enticing city.

      • L rice

        Thank you for your reply! This is the most logical solution offered to date. A small group who appear o be bonded have turned harsh feelings and even hatred toward an inanimate object which is actually a beautiful asset to a city which has lost so much. Why destroy this obelisk? If the name offends the group- remove it.
        The city government of Asheville needs to slow down and take a serious look at the harm being done to a once attractive, enticing city.

        • Roger

          It is unfortunate that the city government of Asheville, but more particularly the politically-motivated candidates and now members of City Council [not to exclude the mayor and former members] have rushed to judgment, and they did so at a time when cooler heads need to prevail for the sake of healing a divided nation. The Democrat Party of North Carolina has acted irrationally and for political gain, and did so for the sake of inciting hatred and division. As an Unaffiliated member of the Electorate, it is believed that a rush to judgment for the sake of inflaming emotional reactions against a hatred for the sins of the past is to invite irrational measures that might hinder the healing so many in the city, the country, the state, and the nation hope and pray for. This obelisk needs to be saved, and contextualized; not destroyed. This irrational action only serves to keep the people of Buncombe country, and the citizens of our nation, emotionally, spiritually, and politically divided. An enlightened vision apart from what a small group has recommended is sorely needed. Not the “hatred toward an inanimate object” as you so properly have identified it.

          • James

            By all means tell US what YOU are doing to “heal” the racial divisions? But you also miss the point that this monument is dedicated to someone who was part of a band of traitors and terrorists who killed 120,000 American troops. Every day that monument stands there is spitting in the face of people who honor and respect our troops and they sacrifice they made for THIS country.

  2. J W Jarvi

    Obelisk towers are placed at specific locations around the world. They allow for increased flow of spiritual energy.

    Asheville itself was it not intended to be a community founded on wellness & removed from the confounds of the 19th & 20th century.

  3. dyfed

    Whatever, it’s a waste of money to knock it down rather than rededicate it, but nobody cares about it enough to protest.

    I just hope we don’t get some preachy treacle monument to replace it. Maybe we could just plant a big tree there.

    • Lr

      “Whatever”! A 120 year old monument and landmark of the city is about to be destroyed because some find reasons to be offended and there is no more concern than Whatever.
      So sad that such important changes in the city are being decided by a small group of bonded individuals. Now will these same individuals start renaming streets, schools, the city? Can’t wait to see what combinations they come up with.
      People, if is isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.

      • James

        Oh the hysterical slippery slope-ism! Feel free to go honor slave-holding terrorists and traitors somewhere else if you feel strongly about it. And you seriously need to look up the concept of representative democracy. We aren’t a direct democracy. These decisions are being made by people elected by all of us, or selected by them from a group of people who raised their hand and asked to be considered. You lost the election. That doesn’t mean you aren’t represented. You are as bad as Trump pouting about the election result.

        • Concerned

          James, calm your attitude and view this realistically! Those who made the decision weren’t elected by me — I am a county resident. I wouldn’t have elected any of them! For 120 years the obelisk has stood as a landmark in Asheville- never harmed anyone, hundreds of photos made. Now suddenly there is “diviseness “, one life matters more than others (NOT), a once peaceful and lovely city has made national news for not so happy reasons: protests, mayor not supporting police, citizens wanting to ‘defund’ those they call first when trouble hits.
          Now, tear down a monument which is part of history- no, I was never a slave and my family never owned slaves. Renember, in addition to white slavery being real many of the slaves of color were actually sold by their own tribesmen!
          Why must everything present hurt feelings and arguments from one group or another?
          By the way, my political beliefs are my business and no one else’s but the election has not been finalized. Since you introduced politics, it’s very sad that the man who left a life of luxury to fight for the country and citizens he loves is being treated so horribly in favor of a political plan using a sick old man as a puppet. Yes, if this succeeds Democracy in America is gone.
          Spend a fortune tearing down an obelisk, removing monuments, rename streets, schools, even Asheville itself – money which could be better used to help the homeless, repair and provide housing, assist low income with health costs. A more sensible solution than wasting hundreds of thousands on a 2020 hurt feelings movement and an attempt to destroy history.
          Peace

          • Jason Williams

            There was, nor is, any kind of “white slavery” in America. Ever. The myth of white slavery is a false equivalence promoted by white supremacists who conflate African chattel slavery with Irish indentured servitude, mostly to support their racism against African American, or in an attempt to squash African American arguments for justice for their historical grievances.
            Indentured servants entered into their contracts willingly, worked for a finite time, didn’t pass their servitude on to their children, and were considered human, for starters.
            When people use that hogwash in their arguments, no matter how valid they are, it invalidates the argument in the opponents mind because the debater now perceived to be an uneducated racist.

        • Roger

          The terrorists so identified by “James” are not the terrorists. The truth is, they [those in the South who fought against invading forces] were far less the terrorists than those federal troops who followed Lincoln’s order in 1862 to invade the West and massacre the First Nations tribes there; the Southern forces were no more terrorists, indeed less so, than the invading sharpshooters hired by railroad moguls to slaughter the buffalo and bring their numbers to extinction as a means of starving the Planes Indians to make way for the Intercontinental Railroad that Lincoln had agreed to support by using the government to underwrite the plan with revenues collected from King Cotton. James is a perfect example to a Leftist who is undereducated and angry to the point of doing everything he can to force the rest of us to conform to his point of view. Sorry, James, but your view of history is flawed and your hope for the future is doomed.

          • James

            You need to look up the definition of terrorists. (And nice dodge on the charge of treason) I am not a leftist. I WAS a Republican until traitors, cowards and racists like you took it over. You only think I’m uneducated because I don’t drink the Fox News kool-aid cum Russian propaganda. Your ignorance of history is obvious and your way of life is failing as rapidly as the rural manure piles your young people are fleeing for the cities and suburbs.

          • Concerned

            Jadon Williams: regarding white slavery in America:
            White Cargo is the forgotten story of the thousands of Britons who lived and died in bondage in Britain’s American colonies. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, more than 300,000 white people were shipped to America as slaves. Urchins were swept up from London’s streets to labor in the tobacco fields, where life expectancy was no more than two years. Brothels were raided to provide “breeders” for Virginia. Hopeful migrants were duped into signing as indentured servants, unaware they would become personal property who could be bought, sold, and even gambled away. Transported convicts were paraded for sale like livestock. Drawing on letters crying for help, diaries, and court and government archives, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh demonstrate that the brutalities usually associated with black slavery alone were perpetrated on whites throughout British rule. The trade ended with American independence, but the British still tried to sell convicts in their former colonies, which prompted one of the most audacious plots in Anglo-American history.
            About the Author
            Don Jordan is an award-winning television director and writer who has worked on dozens of documentaries and dramas. He lives in London.

            Michael Walsh was an award-winning reporter. He wrote four books with Don Jordan, including White Cargo, acclaimed by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison as an “extraordinary book.” He died in 2017.

            Roger Clark is a professional actor and voice-over artist who lives in New York City. He has performed in over forty-five countries.

        • Roger

          “Calm you attitude” is a good, rational recommendation. Jeezzz, James! Get over yourself!

          • James

            Says the guy who has his panties in a twist because REAL Americans in the modern day say it is time the South got over itself and we take down their statues to treason and slavery. Jeez, Roger! Get over yourself!

            P.S. Ya STILL can’t acknowledge dead US troops I see. Some patriot…

  4. James Shaughnessy

    My thoughts are probably not worth much as I am not a native of WNC. Although the monument has been there for a long time it has also hurt people for much longer than any of us have been alive. It is a constant reminder to the Black population of WNC of slavery and how much their ancestors suffered in bondage and had their families torn apart and sold, never to see each other again, and also a constant reminder to those who believe that slavery was wrong as well as those who visit the truly wonderful City of Asheville and learn about Mr. Vance. When I relocated here, one of the first places I visited was the Vance homestead, knowing nothing about the man. Not long after, I learned that he owned human beings to serve him. I later attended a lecture at UNC and learned that Vance supported education for Blacks, provided that the education was in relation to serving White people. That is all I needed to know about Vance. So I as a White person think of those facts every time I drive or walk by the monument and wonder how people could believe that it was ok to buy someone and sell that persons parents and siblings to whoever they pleased. So my thoughts as a resident of WNC is to remove the monument, raise funds from those who admire it and place it at the Vance homestead where it belongs if it belongs anywhere

    • Jason Williams

      We should probably tear down the Smith McDowell house too, since James McConnell Smith, and William Wallace McDowell were both slaveholders, (the latter fought in the Civil War and owned 40 slaves in 1860) and the house itself was built with slave labor.

      • James

        The house is history and wasn’t built specifically to honor traitors, terrorists, slavery and segregation. Try again.

        • Jason Williams

          The Vance Monument is history too. The whole square, is on the National Register of Historic Places. The land was donated to the city by Asheville’s largest benefactor, George W Pack and most of the monument was paid by him too. It was designed by the architect of the Biltmore House and other notable Asheville buildings, Richard Sharp Smith. So try again on your history argument.
          The Smith-McDowell house was built using the forced labor of slaves, and it housed two generations of one of the largest slaveholding families in WNC, after Woodfin. At least the Vance Monument was built by the Masons.

          • James

            The Vance Monument is and was propaganda. Just as art c an also be propaganda. (Ask Leni Riefenstahl ) And again, as slavery was being dismantled your boy took up arms against a lawful government and participated in the killing of 120,000 American troops. There is a difference between those who were participating in something that was horribly acceptable at one time and those who were engaging in killing people to preserve it when it was crumbling around them. We don’t give statues to bin Laden and we shouldn’t have one to this enemy of our country either. (Funny how you people refuse to acknowledge the fact that your buddies killed more Amewricans than any enemy except the Nazis….)

  5. edward l clark

    Why not sell it to a cell phone company to place antennas on. I’ve seen them cleverly disguised to look like trees etc. Have an art work contest to disguise the array. Then collect $ from the cell folks and not waste it denying our heritage.

    • James

      Your heritage of killing 120,000 American troops to continue enslaving, torturing and killing people based on their race? THAT heritage? These aren’t statues of planters and women in hoop skirts. I’ll happily contribute money to honoring the sacrifice of American troops by tearing down this granite middle finger aimed at those troops who made the ultimate sacrifice for THIS country.

      • Roger

        The inflexible attitude so imposed upon the rest of us by “James” is in line with Marxist propaganda used to bring the population into conformity and made to go blindly forward as if the only view of history to be consumed is what “James” tells us it is. Come to think of it, Karl Marx admired Abraham Lincoln…the U.S. President who tricked the country into war for pure economic and imperialistic purposes. Not only did Lincoln order troops to invade and subdue the South, but he ordered federal forces upon the West to remove the Plains Indians by killing off the buffalo to starve them into submission, and massacre those who resisted. “James” would have us all subdued into submission, or into forcing us to believe the flawed view of U.S. History long taught to unsuspecting pupils.

        • James

          So… you can’t deny that you people killed 120,000 American troops and are STILL proud of that today. Or I suppose those 120,000 troops were “fake news” and were actually crisis actors?

          You say it was for “states rights” (which none of you can actually name), so… we have the right to ask YOU… How many US troops would you be willing to kill or see killed to protect states rights today? You people simply want us to keep averting the truth of what you did. You took up arms against a lawful government in an act of treason and killed American troops to prop up the horrific practice of enslaving, torturing and killing people on the basis of their race. The Nazis did the same thing, and they killed US troops to stop us too. But we don’t put up statues to them here in America either, even though that was “history.” We can say the same thing about Al qaeda. Or ISIS. They killed US troops, too.

          P.S. I suppose to use your view of the Confederates we never should have counter-attacked Al Qaeda after 9/11 either?

          • G Man

            Who are the “we” and “you” that you keep referring to?

            How about a bit of elaboration on this “120,000 American troops” claim. Maybe you could provide some context?

            You suppositions are all over the map and make no sense.

    • LR

      👏🏻👏🏻 Will the committee determined to destroy an obelisk read and pay attention to this? Perhaps copies should be sent to each….

  6. North Asheville

    It would be helpful if Mountain Xpress republished Milton Ready’s balanced essay about the complexities of this issue: https://mountainx.com/opinion/when-past-is-present-zeb-vance-and-his-monument/
    This section is particularly relevant:
    A principled and high-minded man, Vance nonetheless embraced the racial stereotypes of the time that deemed newly freed blacks inferior. Yet he loathed the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan, condemning its members as cowards and “ruffians,” its intimidating methods as unlawful.

    Like Andrew Jackson, Zeb Vance believed in the common man, disliked elites, wanted the railroad extended to Western North Carolina because it benefited everyone, fought not for the Confederacy but for North Carolina and its flawed principles, was surprisingly elected governor from the mountains at an early age and, overall, was probably the most popular mountaineer in the state’s history. Our facile judgments of Vance derive from a hypocrisy that’s every bit as shallow as our own historical self-importance.

  7. Audrey Yatras

    Instead of rushing to demolish the physical structure (which is objectively speaking – a perfectly good monument/landmark) why not remove all references to Vance and simply rename the monument? If this monument is demolished, what will replace it and how long will it take to come up with an alternative monument that everyone agrees with – a decade? Look at the Pit of Despair! That eyesore sat vacant for many years while voters thought about what to do with it. Asheville cannot afford to waste taxpayer dollars on political correctness over something as easily rectified as signage. Instead of paying for the cost of removal of this monument and replacing it with TBD, spend the dollars on affordable housing, something everyone can agree is required in Asheville.

    • bsummers

      If this monument is demolished, what will replace it and how long will it take to come up with an alternative monument that everyone agrees with – a decade?

      Sounds right to me. What exactly is wrong with that?

    • James

      Great idea Audrey! While we’re at it, let’s just change the signage at concentration camps and call them “memorial summer camps for some other group.” Because it isn’t like anyone would look at them and still recognize what they were really for after all these years….

  8. ck

    We have a rare opportunity to teach real history by using the monument to acknowledge the true story of Zebulon Vance and to tell the story that we as a community are choosing to recognize and strive beyond oppression of others. The ‘Advance’ monument can become a positive for all if we are brave enough to re-purpose with a hope for our community.
    I hope additional thought will be given to redefining the monument.

  9. Jason Williams

    Well I hope if the city decides to tear down the monument, they reimburse the families and organizations who contributed funds to build the monument in 1897, and those who contributed to it’s repairs in 2015.

    • Peter Robbins

      Nonsense. Like the plantation employees before them, they knew the risks when they volunteered.

      • Roger

        There’s enough nonsense to go around on every side of this “conversation,” not one time, but many times over. If some of these holier-than-thou, politically-correct partisans would seek truth with an open mind, they’d probably discover members in their own family background who were racist in mind, spirit, and soul. So, hey, get off your “I’m going to smear you natives with your wicked past and then I’m going to tear down your town,” bulls–t. Jeezzz, get over yourselves!

      • edward l clark

        It’s easy to view slavery from the 21st century as a horrible enterprise and in some slave/owner cases it was. In the day most non compensated ‘slaves’ were treated with the respect they deserved. You must keep in mind that in 1850 there was very little mechanized cotton production beyond plows and such. Slaves were the machines of the day to grow and harvest a cash crop as well as many other duties. Successful plantation owners had to use them. Just as today the vast majority of plantation owners didn’t abuse the ‘machinery’ they needed to be successful. I doubt Mr. Vance abused his farm help. Granted some planation owners did, the slaves escaped, the owners ruthlessly pursued them into the northern states and this was the match that lit the fire of Civil War. Ironically, within 5 years after the Civil War, cotton production was mechanized and the need for slaves had mostly passed.

    • James

      I’ll happily reimburse them if they reimburse the descendants of slaves for all the back pay and other compensation due to them.

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