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Asheville City Council Approves Removal Of Vance Monument

The Vance Monument is seen in downtown Asheville.

Asheville City Council voted Tuesday evening to remove the Vance Monument from its spot in the city's main public space, taking away the 65-foot obelisk which has stood in what is now called Pack Square since 1898.

The final vote was 6-1, with Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore casting the lone dissenting vote. The monument is named for Zebulon Vance, North Carolina's governor during the Civil War and U.S. senator during Reconstruction until his death in 1894. Vance and his family enslaved people prior to the war, and he fought vehemently against full civil rights for Black Americans after it.

It will be the third Confederate monument removed from Pack Square following protests after the killing of George Floyd last year. A plaque with the likeness of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and a memorial to Confederate soldiers were removed last summer.

A task force created by City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners recommended the removal of the monument in November by an 11-1 vote. The task force looked at several options for the future of the monument, including repurposing it by taking Vance's name off it to keeping it with signs putting Vance's life in more context.

One of the members of that task force, former Buncombe County Commissioner David King, said in an interview prior to Tuesday's vote that among their many wishes, members wanted Pack Square to be a more welcoming place. Keeping the Vance Monument there would prevent that, according to King: "Let's turn this into a welcoming place for everyone — all local people, visitors and newcomers."

Council also approved a temporary plan for the site Tuesday. The removal and demolition of the monument would take up to 45 days, according to the city, meaning it would be gone as late as early May. A flower bed would be the temporary replacement for the monument, with the city hoping to have a long-term plan in place for the site by the end of the year.

A 2015 state law seemingly prevented the city from removing the monument, as it mandated such objects could not be removed unless they were placed in areas "of similar prominence." City officials argued though Asheville did have the authority to remove it, going as far as calling it a public safety hazard because of numerous incidents of vandalism and threats to destroy it in materials distributed to council members Tuesday.

What will happen to the actual monument was not discussed during the meeting.

Vance is one of the most important figures in North Carolina history and politics. His speeches against civil rights for Black Americans as a U.S. senator — and he and his family's enslaving of people prior to the Civil War — have come into renewed focus following last year's racial justice protests. That has led to his name being removed from an elementary school in Asheville and a high school in Charlotte over the past year. There are still statues of Vance at both the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh and the U.S. Capitol.

Copyright 2021 Blue Ridge Public Radio. To learn more, visit BPR.org.