Before the NC General Assembly adjourned its long session last Friday, Republican legislative leaders’ House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro-tem Phil Berger were asked in writing why they cut a proposed $200,000 from the compromise $23 billion budget for the African-American “Freedom Monument” project slated for the State Capitol grounds and, instead, earmarked $5 million – 25 times as much – to a new $65 million NC Civil War Museum in Fayetteville, scheduled to open in 2020.
Neither Moore nor Berger responded to the written requests for comment sent to their offices one day before both houses of the legislature adjourned.
The only Republican lawmaker who did respond to the press inquiry was one of the budget writers, State Rep. Donny Lambeth [R-Forsyth], but that was to say that only Moore or Berger could answer.
“This was negotiated after the full [committee] chairs finished all the budget work that was asked of us. I can see if I can get you a statement from the Speaker,” Lambeth e-mailed back, but no statement from Speaker Moore was forthcoming.
The museum, or “center,” to which it is normally referred by its Winston-Salem-based fundraiser, has already raised approximately $27 million – all but $7 million from government funding from Fayetteville, Cumberland County, and now the State Legislature.
When completed, it will replace the current Museum of the Cape Fear, a State –owned, State supported facility.
The Freedom Monument, planning for which began in Republican Governor Pat McCrory’s administration, would also be a State-owned, State-funded memorial. After various hearings were held about the project across North Carolina, a summary report was written for the advisory committee of the N. C. Historical Commission and the N. C. African American Heritage Commission.
The draft summary of that report said, “Schoolchildren, it should be remembered, are a prime audience, as they constitute a major segment of the visitors to the Capitol. “
“The monument should make an impact on all visitors, young people included,” the draft report continued. “The monument is intended for all citizens, not solely for African Americans. The monument should present a public face to newcomers and should encapsulate the African American experience in North Carolina. It is the intent of the sponsoring bodies that the monument should be historical and commemorative in nature. While it must be aesthetically pleasing, it should complement other monuments on the grounds and be grounded in North Carolina history”
The Freedom Monument project is now without public funding as originally proposed last March by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper in his budget.
A spokesperson for the NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources, which oversees the project along with both commissions, said Governor Cooper’s proposed appropriation was to complete the planning and design on the monument Governor McCrory once said was an “…appropriate way to recognize the contributions of African- Americans to North Carolina’s history… “
The project now has no timeline or appropriation, “but we are moving forward,” the NCDNCR spokesperson assured.
Ironically, the primary fundraiser for the NC Civil War Center, David Winslow of The Winslow Group, said, “Some of the same volunteers who are working on the monument project are also working with [us], and I know they were disappointed.”
Winslow continued that he heard that Gov. Cooper “…is committed to finding the $200,000 from the budget. So I hope they will be able to proceed ahead sooner rather than later.”
According to a 2015 WUNC.org report, there are 230 Civil War monuments in North Carolina “outnumbering state monuments commemorating any other event.”
Perhaps the tallest Confederate Monument in North Carolina is directly in front of the State Capitol Building in Raleigh, dedicated in May 1895 and towering 75 feet facing Hillsborough Street, costing $22,000. The legislature appropriated $20,000 towards the project.
One of the prominent figures to help dedicate that monument was Alfred M. Waddell – a former Confederate colonel, and one of the White supremacist leaders of the 1898 Wilmington race massacre.
In contrast, the number of African-American monuments North Carolina has statewide, according to docsouth.unc.edu – is just 33.
The elimination of funding for the Freedom Monument only reinforced the bad taste Democrats and others already had for a bruising legislative session wherein the Republican majority, without apology, imposed their will on a Democratic governor for whom they vowed to show little regard.
“I’m troubled that Republican legislative leaders neglected to fund an African American heritage monument on State Capitol grounds,” Governor Cooper said in a statement. “This monument is long overdue, which is why I prioritized it in my budget proposal. This is just another example of legislative Republicans with the wrong priorities.”
Noting that the GOP decision to scrub the funding for the Freedom Monument was “disappointing,” Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) opined,” The General Assembly should be leading the way in showing that North Carolina is committed to progress and celebrates the rich history of African-Americans.”
“Instead, my Republican colleagues have once again decided to ignore the history of the people they serve. I hope that we are able to find common ground to fund a project that is long overdue,” Sen. Lowe concluded.
Non-elected officials, however, did not spare the rod.
Duke University Professor of Public Policy, Dr. William Darity, Jr. bluntly said, “ We are living in a moment where we are getting a glimpse of what life would have been like under a Confederate States of America.”
Picking up from Professor Darity’s clue of an Old South mentality at work in the legislature, civil rights Attorney Al McSurely, who is White, said, “The Berger-Moore secret White caucus recognizes its days are numbered. Their politics, based on abject denial of the effects of southern systems of racism and poverty, have cruelly punished Black and White poor and working people across North Carolina and the South. They apparently have convinced themselves that the 30-35% base of “White” voters, if they can just curry their votes with racial code words and policies, will keep them in power forever.”
Finally, NCNAACP President, The Reverend Dr. William Barber, outraged by the Republican-led legislature’s overall policies toward the poor and communities of color, called GOP rule “…illegal and out of control.”
“Whether it’s the regressive budget or denying health care or voter suppression, this legislature is out of touch with democratic principles and our deepest moral values. With every action, they expose their love for failed policies of the past and their desire to take North Carolina backwards,” Dr. Barber said.