WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — More than a year after the City of Wilmington removed two Confederate statues from downtown Wilmington, a decision has been made to not return them.
On Monday morning, Wilmington City Council voted to permanently remove the statues from downtown public spaces following a presentation from the City Attorney in an open session meeting.
The statues, located at Third Street and Market Street, were temporarily relocated to storage in June 2020 in accordance with state law citing public safety concerns. State law (§100-2.1) prohibits state and local governments from permanently removing publicly owned objects of remembrance, such as statues, but does allow for temporary relocation.
According to a news release, the Office of the City Attorney has researched the legal options for objects of remembrance, including the ownership of these two statues.
During this process, Cape Fear 3, a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, approached the city and asserted a claim on the statues. In 1909 and 1922, Cape Fear 3 commissioned the statues and sought city permission to erect them on public property using funds that were either raised by the organization or left by an estate.
Based on a review of City records dating back more than a century and relevant law, the City Attorney’s office concurs that Cape Fear 3 has a superior ownership claim on both statues.
In a letter to the city dated July 5, Cape Fear 3 asserts its right of possession over the statues and their pedestals and requests the city hold them in storage on an interim basis until Cape Fear 3 can make arrangements to take possession of them.
The City Attorney first presented the office’s research, along with the claim letter and a proposed settlement agreement to City Council during closed session.
Immediately following closed session, council asked the City Attorney to present this information in open session prior to voting on the agreement. With the statues already in storage, the city has agreed to move the pedestals into storage until Cape Fear 3 takes possession of them.
City Council acknowledged that the statues had become a divisive issue for the community with opposing views on their future in downtown.
It pointed to today’s vote as evidence of a reasonable solution in the community’s best interest. The effect of the vote will permanently remove the statues and likely avoids the kind of litigation which has befallen other cities in North Carolina dealing with similar objects of remembrance.
With the settlement agreement now approved, no further council action is required. The city will now work with relevant parties to coordinate the removal of the statue bases.