Court dismisses appeal over Winston-Salem Confederate monument’s removal

The Court of Appeals of North Carolina dismissed an appeal Tuesday by the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s North Carolina Division and its James B. Gordon Chapter Tuesday in a suit over the removal of a Confederate monument from downtown Winston-Salem.

The Confederate monument, as it once stood in downtown Winston-Salem.

As Policy Watch reported last year, the statue stood on private property – an apartment building that was once the county courthouse. Since it wasn’t on city or state owned land, it wasn’t covered by a 2015 state law that was used to prevented the removal of such monuments in downtown Raleigh and at UNC-Chapel Hill. Those statues were themselves brought down by protesters and their remnants removed for public safety reasons.

Both the city and the owner of the apartment building wanted the statue removed. Mayor Allen Joines proposed moving the statue to nearby Salem Cemetery, which is home to 36 Confederate graves. The United Daughters of the Confederacy sued to prevent the removal, but failed in court. The statue was removed in March of last year.

Last May a Forsyth County Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it could not be brought back to that court. The United Daughters of the Confederacy appealed that decision.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals upheld the earlier ruling, saying that the group had failed to demonstrate any real ownership over the statue.

From the opinion:

“Plaintiff’s complaint, on its face, established no basis for ownership or any other interest in a statue which plaintiff did not claim to own, and which was located on privately-owned property. To establish standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate three things: injury in fact, a concrete and actual invasion of a legally protected interest; the traceability of the injury to a defendant’s actions; and the probability that the injury can be redressed by a favorable decision.

Thus, to pursue a declaratory judgment as to its rights in the statue, plaintiff had to show, at the very least, that it possessed some rights in the statue—a legally protected interest invaded by defendants’ conduct.”

While the group couldn’t establish its ownership rights to the monument, the court found, its own argument about property rights seemed to bolster the case of the property owner who wanted it removed.

“Further, aside from acknowledging their role in funding the erection of the statue over a century ago, plaintiffs alleged no ownership rights to the statue. Every case and statute cited by plaintiffs stands for the principle that, when a city or county acts in the manner described in plaintiff’s complaint, the owner of affected property has rights that are implicated. Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate or allege any legal interest in the statue.”

As Policy Watch reported last year, the Confederate Soldiers Monument, erected in 1905, had become one of a series of flash points in the ongoing cultural conflict over history, memory and North Carolina’s identity.

Standing 30 feet tall, the statue of a single armed soldier looked down from its pedestal on the streets of Winston-Salem. It proclaimed its view of the Confederacy in the verse etched on its base:

SLEEPING, BUT GLORIOUS / DEAD IN FAME’S PORTAL / DEAD BUT VICTORIOUS / DEAD BUT IMMORTAL / THEY GAVE US GREAT GLORY /WHAT MORE COULD THEY GIVE? / THEY LEFT US A STORY, / A STORY TO LIVE!”

But many of the city’s residents said that story – of a “glorious” Confederacy and the brave boys who gave their lives to preserve it – is a harmful and false narrative. It ignores the racism and defense of slavery at the heart of the Confederacy, they said, acting as a reminder to Black citizens of the Jim Crow era in which it was erected.

“It was erected to terrorize Blacks, our mothers, and I refuse for the statue to remain, to be etched in the memory of our daughters in future generations,” said city resident Crystal Rook during a meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council before the statue’s removal.

“Why would the city of Winston-Salem keep this statue, a symbol of hate, systemic racism and a reason to terrorize the Black community anywhere?” Rook asked. “Especially in a district that prides itself on innovation?”

Policy Watch has reported extensively on Confederate monuments, their historical context and the movement to remove them from public spaces across the state.

For more on the United Daughters of the Confederacy and its role in erecting the monuments, see Policy Watch’s interview with Dr. Karen Cox, author of the book“Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture,

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