Imprisoned by federal troops shortly after the end of Civil War, North Carolina Gov. Zebulon Vance wrote his friend from jail in a state of despair.
“There are indications that the radicals intend to force perfect Negro equality upon us. Should this be done, and there is nothing I can do to prevent it, it would revive an already half-formed determination in me to leave the United States forever,” Vance wrote.
Just over 30 years later — the same year white supremacists in Wilmington massacred scores of African Americans and overthrew the Reconstruction-era government — the City of Asheville erected a 75-foot-tall monument to honor Vance, a two-time governor who also served in the U.S. Senate. That structure was just outside the courthouse, where enslaved people were sold on the steps on at least several occasions.
On Wednesday, a descendant of one of the enslaved people owned by Vance told a gathering in Raleigh that the monument was “a symbol of power.”
That descendant, Oralene Simmons, served as co-chair of the Vance Monument Task Force, a group that recommended the City of Asheville remove the monument, a suggestion the City Council voted to approve in March 2021. Most of the structure was taken down later that year.
But the statue’s toppling is not settled. The North Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case brought by the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, which is suing to stop the city’s removal of the monument and potentially force them to re-erect it.
That would mean the remembrance would again stand tall a spitting distance from the courthouse, a representation of a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts Black and brown North Carolinians to this day, more than 150 years after the end of slavery in the United States.
“If this monument is left in its original form, rather than completely removed, it will continue to serve as a symbol of white supremacy to those most affected by its presence,” Simmons warned.