WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (CN) – A Confederate statue was removed Tuesday from the grounds of an historic courthouse in North Carolina, sparking the latest debate in the state over such monuments.
The statue of an anonymous Confederate soldier, which was erected in 1905, was removed from the pedestal where it long stood outside the old courthouse in Winston-Salem.
The statue will move to Salem Cemetery, “a very dignified location,” Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said during a press conference Tuesday morning.
The cemetery that will house the statue after it spends some time in an undisclosed storage location has the graves of about 36 Confederate soldiers.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that owns the statue, was told to remove it from the grounds by Winston-Salem city attorney Angela Carmon, who gave a deadline of Jan. 31. The group protested the order, requesting an injunction to prevent the removal, but Forsyth Superior Court Judge Stanley Allen denied the request.
Tuesday’s removal of the statue came after officials grew increasingly worried about the potential for violence as a result of its prominent presence in the city. City leaders had declared it a public nuisance and gave the city authority to remove it without filing a legal notice.
Winston-Salem police say the statue was vandalized on Christmas Day with the words “cowards & traitors” scribbled in permanent marker.
In August 2017, soon after violence erupted during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the North Carolina statue had also been spray-painted.
With more than 92 Confederate monuments on public land, excluding those placed in cemeteries, North Carolina is home to some of the highest numbers of Confederate monuments in the South, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
About half of the state’s 100 counties from mountains to the coast host a Confederate monument on courthouse lawns or other public areas.
The old courthouse is privately owned by Winston Courthouse LLC, who requested the statue be moved. The city agreed to fund the removal.
The removal of the statue was a much easier legal process because it was on private property.
A state law that passed in 2015 is widely interpreted as prohibiting the permanent removal of Confederate statues from public land, which led to the escalation of a conflict on the state’s flagship campus last year.
Protesters at UNC-Chapel Hill toppled the campus’ polarizing Confederate statue, named “Silent Sam,” after then-Chancellor Carol Folt told students the law prevented the university from permanently removing it.
In a statement in January, Folt said she planned to resign as chancellor, but she was forced to leave the university earlier than anticipated after she unilaterally ordered the removal of the stone base that held the statue.
Many people perceive these statues and monuments as a way to honor their ancestors and their heritage, but others see something else.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy funded many of the monuments found throughout the state.
“The reality is, they had a broader agenda than just honoring these men,” Karen Cox, UNC Charlotte professor of history, told Courthouse News.
Context is critical, Cox said, and in the modern era the monuments represent outdated thinking representative of the time these monuments were erected.
Many started to pop up around the state nearly 50 years after the Civil War, during the Jim Crow era, she said.
Cox is the author of the 2003 book “Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.”
Nelma Crutcher, president general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said in a statement last year, “To some, these memorial statues and markers are viewed as divisive and thus unworthy of being allowed to remain in public places. To others, they simply represent a memorial to our forefathers who fought bravely during four years of war.”
In the statement, Crutcher condemned the use of Confederate images to promote hatred.
But Cox said that because of the context behind many of these monuments, some people consider them to be a representation of racism.
Footage of the Confederate statue removal in Winston-Salem on Tuesday showed some crowd members cheering and tooting plastic horns, while other onlookers shook their heads.