LAURINBURG — A bill signed by Gov. Pat McCroy on Thursday sparked fierce debate in the state legislature this week as it applies to the protection of Confederate memorials, which have come under widespread scrutiny since last month’s shooting of nine people in a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The “Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act” prohibits the permanent removal of any object of remembrance located on public property.
In a release sent by the governor’s office, McCrory said he had issues with the bill for removing local control over monuments deemed to commemorate “an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” It would take an act of the General Assembly to remove such a monument.
But ultimately McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, said the bill’s “goals” were worthy of his signature.
The N.C. House voted to pass the bill on Tuesday after a late-night debate on Monday when Democrats condemned the bill for preserving Confederate symbols and representatives of both parties gave passionate speeches from the floor.
Although House Speaker Tim Moore warned both sides to keep their arguments tailored to the bill’s language, the discussion turned to talk of history and sentiments surrounding Confederate symbols.
While the bill was initially filed in February and makes no explicit mention of Confederate or Civil War memorials, the bill’s progress in the state legislature comes as good news for those who find them historically valuable.
“Monuments exist because they represent something precious to those that put them there and as lasting memorials to heroes to their descendants,” said Nathan McCormick of Marston, a Sons of Confederate Veterans member. “That they may offend some specific group goes without saying.”
This week, memorials in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill were found emblazoned with the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” and Alamance County stationed a surveillance camera near the Confederate memorial outside the courthouse in Graham.
Herman Tyson, president of Scotland County’s NAACP chapter, feels that the legislature’s passage of what can be viewed as tacit endorsement of Confederate memorials at this time may be counterproductive.
“I just think it’s bad timing,” he said. “Especially with the events that we had four or five weeks ago, what happened in Charleston and now what has happened in Chattanooga. America needs a healing process and this is just going to spark many differences.”
Scotland County is home to a Confederate Soldiers Memorial, which is stationed outside the courthouse on Biggs Street. One one face, it is inscribed as dedicated “to the Confederate soldiers of Scotland County, the record of whose sublime self-sacrifice and undying devotion to duty in the service of their country is the fond heritage of a loyal posterity.”
Originally dedicated in 1912, the monument was first placed in the center of the intersection of Church and Main streets. It was moved to the present courthouse after its construction in 1964.
SB 22 stipulates that any removal, relocation, or alteration of monuments or memorials must be approved by the N.C. Historical Commission. Any such object that is temporarily removed to allow for construction or some other purpose must be returned within 90 days of the project’s completion, and objects that are permanently relocated must be moved to “a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated.”
McCormick views movements to eliminate Confederate symbols as a “knee-jerk reaction” in the wake of a tragedy.
“Such an act is no more representative of Southern heritage than is the more recent killing of U.S. servicemen by an Islamic terrorist in Tennessee is that of Islam as a whole,” he said.
Tyson suggested that state lawmakers’ time may be better spent tackling issues related to education and unemployment than the protection of statues.
“Anytime it’s used as an injustice toward any particular race or group, then it becomes a terrible thing,” Tyson said. ” This is just terrible timing for it and there are other issues that we need to be working on.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169. The Associated Press contributed to this story.