Letter: The case for rebuilding the Vance Monument

Graphic by Lori Deaton

It is so quiet around here. Perhaps I can blow it all up with a contrarian grenade lob: As a retired soldier, I’ve seen firsthand the often soul-searing sacrifices made by individuals in service to their country. Zebulon Baird Vance, despite his misguided association with the Confederacy, played a significant role in supporting soldiers returning from the Civil War. His efforts to ensure that veterans were taken care of and received the support they needed are commendable and speak to his commitment to serving his community.

The obelisk dedicated to Vance served as an iconic landmark in Asheville, symbolizing not just his legacy, but also the resilience and spirit of the community. Its demolition was a rash and misdirected decision that failed to consider the broader context of Vance’s life and contributions. Moreover, the absence of the obelisk has left a noticeable void in the heart of Asheville’s cityscape.

Despite efforts to find a suitable replacement, no alternative has been able to capture the significance and symbolism of the original monument. This underscores the unique role that the obelisk played in the collective identity of Asheville’s residents and highlights the challenge of finding a suitable replacement for such a cherished landmark.

Rather than erasing history, we should strive to learn from it. Rebuilding the obelisk presents an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about our past, acknowledging the undesirable complexities of historical figures like Vance, while also honoring the positive aspects of their legacies. It’s a chance to educate future generations about the nuances of our history and the lessons we can draw from it.

In rebuilding the obelisk, we demonstrate our commitment to preserving our heritage, while also looking toward the future. It’s a statement of resilience and reconciliation, reflecting our collective willingness to confront the complexities of our past and move forward with understanding and compassion.

Ultimately, rebuilding the obelisk is not at all about honoring Vance or the Confederacy, but about honoring the distinctive experiences and perspectives that make up our remarkable, diverse community. It’s a step toward healing and unity, reaffirming our shared values and aspirations as we strive to build a better future together. Just a thought: Maybe it will distract the City Council from its quest to deforest East Asheville and bury us in asphalt.

— Jane Spence-Edwards
East Asheville


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

14 thoughts on “Letter: The case for rebuilding the Vance Monument

  1. Michael Hopping

    Shirley, you jest. It was indeed an ironic landmark.
    But I’m with you on the trees.

  2. Voirdire

    Well here we go again… but of course it’s going nowhere; the monument and the moment are long gone. Its dismembering was never about anything but making a statement …amends aren’t made by posturing. As for the monument itself… it was an obelisk and nothing more if the name Vance hadn’t been carved on the granite block below it. I suggested long ago that it could have been rededicated to the enslaved black “convicts” that were impressed by the State of North Carolina AFTER the civil war to build the railroad line and tunnels up the once thought inconquerable Old Fort grade ..where and wherein many lost their lives doing so. That railroad put Asheville on the map, period. ( ..there is an interpretive display about all of this in Black Mountain in front of the old train station downtown). And please, save the.. but it would always have been the Vance Monument! …sure, for the simple and single minded ..of which we have more than our fair share of these days. sigh.

    • Peter Robbins

      Nothing right now prevents the city from erecting a tribute to the “convicts” who died while building the railroad. That would be a worthy project with which to replace the former Vance Monument. It wouldn’t have to be an obelisk, though. In fact, an obelisk would be a strangely abstract choice for such a visceral theme. People would wonder why we didn’t go with a sculpture of some kind. But save those details for later. Write up a proposal, I’ll correct the grammar for you, and we can submit it jointly to the City Council. Unity at last!

    • Mike Rains

      Great comment.
      Mayor Manheimer was bent on removal. I don’t now whether this is a generational thing or political pandering or a little bit of both.
      Anyway, a good amount of taxpayer money wasted and its not as if Asheville has lots of that laying around.

    • Jane Spence-Edwards

      I thought maybe they could have rededicated to the Great Removal (Trail of Tears). I certianly don’t care about Vance’s memory as much as I cared about the sensless destruction of the obelisk – THEN hiding away the granite stones from the stealing eyes of the citizenry of Asheville. I mean, come on! That is certianly a waste of tax dollars, making the removal a gift that keeps on giving until the city spends even more tax dollars to have someone pound the granite in to microns. What a waste. Good thing Monticello wasn’t built in Asheville. I despair for our leadership!

  3. MV

    I opposed removal (partly) because of the wasted money and wasted opportunity. I also oppose rebuilding it for those reasons and a few others. If the removal is a perceived injustice to those who support Vance, then so be it. History and reality are equally flawed and messy for all.

  4. WNC

    If raised again the NC Democratic Party can resume their biggest fundraiser.
    Vance/Aycock Dinner

  5. kw

    It’s time to yank down all Susan B. Anthony statues in our country. She was an aggressively huge racist and the statues shoving her image into public faces are far more offensive to me than a faceless obelisk.

  6. Mike Rains

    Our US Capitol was built largely with slave labor. When I tell this to people who want to tear “bad” history down, they always get quiet.

    • Peter Robbins

      I’m obviously not familiar with every discussion you’ve ever have had, Mike, and I don’t know who the members of this “bad history” cult are, but I do recall that you and I had an online exchange about a year ago on the subject of the United States Capitol. Allow me to quote the pertinent parts verbatim:

      You: “And again, as I’ve stated before…… where does it end?? The US Capitol was buiilt largely with slave labor. Oh, you didn’t know that?? Tear that down too? Please give me a cogent and rational solution to that sticky question.”

      Me: “I knew enslaved labor was used to build the Capitol. I do not favor tearing it down, although some of the former president’s supporters apparently had a different opinion. I don’t know exactly where the process of revising commemorative landscapes will end, but that’s okay because I don’t think I need to draw a line or could enforce any line that I drew.”

      I’m sorry if I came across as dumbstruck onto silence by your rhetorical thunderbolt, but when you didn’t say anything else, I assumed the conversation was over.

      If you still need a shorthand test for evaluating when to remove problematic statues and monuments, I suggest employing a rebuttable presumption that slaveholders and Confederates are unworthy of public honors. That presumption could be overcome only by the only the most extraordinary merit in other fields of endeavor or by the most exceptional circumstances. I expect few notables would get through the eye of that needle. I still don’t see what any of that has to do with the Capitol, but I doubt it matters.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.