Removal of the Vance Monument on Pack Square can now move forward with the approval of Asheville City Council and a denied court motion that sought to delay its demolition.
Along with the request for a temporary restraining order to delay its demolition, the Society for the Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, Inc., has filed a lawsuit to stop the removal of the monument. The organization alleges that the City of Asheville is in breach of contract after a 2015 agreement between the city and the organization, which funded the monument’s restoration at that time, said Polly McDaniel, a spokesperson for the City of Asheville.
These recent measures reflect the continued controversy over the 75-foot granite obelisk built in 1897 and dedicated to former Governor Zebulon Vance, a slave owner who opposed civil rights for Black citizens.
“It glorifies white supremacy. For the love of humanity take it down,” said Asheville resident Greenleaf Clarke, speaking at the March 23 city council meeting when removal of the monument was approved with a 6-1 vote.
“This excellent obelisk in no manner represents racism,” countered Asheville resident Lawrence Williamson, who suggested re-dedicating the monument rather than removing it.
Williamson and others who spoke in favor of preserving the monument said they were in agreement with city council member Sandra Kilgore who cast the single vote against its removal and called for its re-purposing instead.
“Very seldom do you see an obelisk removed,” Kilgore said, noting the difference between the Vance Monument and a Confederate statue.
Kilgore also said that people in the Asheville community were not given time to participate in the decision regarding the monument and that the process involving a recommendation by a city-appointed task force was not property vetted.
“We need to hear from all people,” Kilgore said.
Among citizens advocating for removal of the monument is Noel Nickle, a descendant of Vance.
“I’m asking you to tear it down,” said Nickle, speaking at the March 23 city council meeting. “As a descendant of those who enslaved others, I try every day to erase racism from my heart,” she remarked.
The cost of removing the monument also is an issue for those opposing the measure. The lowest bid the city has received for its demolition is $114,500.
After the monument is removed, a team of planners and community organizers will work with the public to create a comprehensive Community Vision Document for the site, McDaniel said. This process and the resulting report, which includes the use of contracted services, is expected to cost between $50,000 and $70,000, an appropriation approved by city council, she noted.
The controversy over the monument was stirred in the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis last year, McDaniel said. The city received threats that members of the public would attempt to topple the structure, she said.
“Increasingly, the monument has become a focal point for protests and counter protests, often resulting in a dangerous condition for the community. For these reasons, it was deemed a public safety threat,” McDaniel said.
“This is a difficult decision,” said Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. “The Vance Monument is very much the centerpiece of the city. I have struggled with this.”
“I have come to believe that the Vance Monument never reflected the values of our community,” Manheimer remarked. “A lot of cities are going through this transformation,” she added.