Asheville removes Jim Crow-era Vance monument from downtown square

Stephanie Michelle

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Photo of Vance Monument from Wikimedia Commons

In May of this year, the city of Asheville began the process of demolishing the contentious Zebulon Baird Vance monument which stood in downtown Asheville.

The obelisk-shaped stone monument was erected in 1898 in honor of the Civil War-era governor of North Carolina. The cornerstone of the monument was laid in December of 1897 as a band played the song "Dixie," which was known as a de facto national anthem of the Confederacy and as one of the most celebrated songs to emerge from blackface minstrelsy.

The construction of the monument was partly funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. African American City Council member Keith Young contends that the intent of those behind the monument's creation was to send a message of intimidation and belittlement to black residents: "We still have power. We still have control. And this is your place in our society."

Its design was based on the Washington Monument in Washington D.C., and Richard Sharp Smith, the same architect who designed the Biltmore House in Asheville, contributed to its design.

The 65-foot monument was located in Pack Square downtown, and the following was inscribed on its plaque:

Zebulon Baird Vance
Confederate soldier, war governor
U.S. senator, orator, statesman
May 13, 1830 -- April 14, 1894
This tablet is placed by Asheville Chapter U.D.C. 1938.

The impetus to remove the monument began gaining momentum during Asheville's incendiary George Floyd protests in 2020. Collective demands from Ashevillians prompted Asheville's City Council to vote on whether to remove the obelisk. In March of this year, that vote yielded a 6-1 victory in favor of destroying the Jim Crow-era monument.

Throughout the demolition process which started in May, opponents of the removal brandished Confederate flags and paraded around the town square.

The destruction of the monument cost the city a $114,150 contract with a company called Chonzie. The process has not been seamless: Throughout May and June, opposition from groups calling to preserve the monument stymied progress toward completing the demolition.

According to the Citizen Times, Asheville's local newspaper,

While demolition moves on, the city and a historical preservation group opposing the deconstruction are awaiting a decision by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The state's second-highest court is deciding whether to halt the removal called for by the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops. The 26th N.C. Troops, which refurbished the monument in 2015 and said the demolition amounts to a breach of contract, said it was necessary to wait in order to see the outcome of a similar case in the N.C. Supreme Court.
Activists in opposition to the monument's continued existence took issue with its regressive history, which was rife with racial injustice and oppression.
For instance, Zebulon Baird Vance, the namesake of the monument, owned slaves and combatted efforts to give African Americans equal rights throughout his lifetime. As a politician who served for decades, he was instrumental in stalling progress toward racial justice and the abolition of slavery in the U.S.
Historian Sasha Mitchell has even claimed that he was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, meaning that he held a lofty position in the bigoted organization's internal hierarchy.
In his writings and public speeches, he relayed many vitriolic remarks regarding African Americans. He even once wrote that African Americans have a "putrid stream of African barbarism" running through their blood.
Additionally, in the vicinity where the Vance monument stood, slaves were sold in the 1800s. Thus, the city of Asheville is considering replacing the now-demolished monument with a new one which commemorates African Americans and which educates the public about the role of slavery and racial oppression in the region's history.

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Writer, editor, and leftist activist with writing in The Correspondent, Wear Your Voice, Adios Barbie, etc. Endlessly fascinated by the complexities of human minds and cultures. Currently completing my MA in Anthropology.

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