Debate over the future of Winston-Salem’s Confederate statue continues behind closed doors as city officials are unable to take legal action, city officials said.
Located on 4th and Liberty, the monument to “our Confederate dead” stands outside of the 50 West Fourth apartment complex.
After the violent protests in Charlottesville over a Confederate memorial that led to the death of a woman, Winston-Salem’s statue was vandalized with graffiti on August 18th. The day after the vandalism, protesters lined the streets of Winston-Salem to speak out against the violence occurring in Charlottesville. While the peaceful protests ensued, two members of the community chose to stand watch by the statue to prevent anything from happening to it. No violence has broken out over it so far.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, a historical and memorial organization, commissioned the statue in 1905 and now owns it. They could not be reached for comment.
Angela Carmon, the city attorney, said that the city is not pursuing legal action because it has no grounds to do so. According to Carmon, the statue is located on private property. The statue is on the land of Winston Courthouse LLC, which owns 50 West Fourth Condos, but the actual monument does not belong to them.
Tonya Joyce, the property manager for Winston Courthouse LLC has no comment. She said they do not own the statue.
Mayor Allen Joines said he has been discussing a possible relocation of the statue with the United Daughters of the Confederacy since the events of Charlottesville. After a 2015 law passed by North Carolina’s general assembly, city government officials like the city council are unable to authorize the relocation of any of these Confederate monuments on public land. However, in Winston’s case, the statue is not owned by the city or state, and therefore is exempt from this law.
Joines said he is currently discussing this issue with the United Daughters of the Confederacy and is approaching it slowly. He said he is “hoping to identify a true win-win situation.” He said he is unwilling to disclose any additional information because of the confidential nature of the talks.
While public support or opposition to the statue remains unclear, an article on the Winston-Salem Journal had an online poll where readers could vote on four options. As of September 27th, 120 people voted to “tear it down”, 417 voted to “leave it there”, 179 voted to “move it”, and 10 people said “I’m not sure.”
Jeff McIntosh, the city council representative for the Northwest Ward said that he hadn’t paid much attention to the statue until the events in Charlottesville, “but then the day after Charlottesville, just the symbolism of it changed so much in everybody’s mind.”
The violence in Virginia broke out because of a group of white supremacists rallying around the statue to protect it. For many, McIntosh included, this has changed the conversation surrounding Confederate statues and memorials.
McIntosh noted the lack of violence and believes the city has handled the situation well. “I think there’s a rational conversation going on about what to do with it,” he said. “I think it’s much better to do that in the short run then to do something quickly that’s just not right for the long run.”
Many local governments across North Carolina are discussing the relocation or removal of these Confederate monuments but their actions are limited because of state law. In Durham, protestors pulled down a statue while police watched, and were later arrested for rioting and destruction of public property.
Winston-Salem is in a unique position because the removal of the statue would not be prohibited by state law, but instead lies in the hands of a private organization. The United Daughters of the Confederacy retain the rights and therefore the responsibility over the statue and its future.