The chair of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus says her members believe the political atmosphere is too racially caustic now, especially after the tragic events of Charlottesville two weeks ago, and subsequent growing controversy surrounding the removal of confederate statues and monuments statewide, to publicly lobby for funding for the long planned Freedom Monument Project.
“The consensus of our group is that we didn’t want to conflate the issue of the African-American monument, and lack thereof, to the confederate monument issue at this point,” said State Sen. Angela Bryant (D – District 4), NCLBC chair. “We think [both issues] should be addressed separately. We don’t want them to get into a competitive issue.”
It was last March when Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, first appropriated in his proposed budget a one-time funding of $200,000 towards the design and other planning surrounding the Freedom Monument, a State monument to be erected in honor of African-American contributions to the State. The project had been originally planned under the previous administration of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who wholeheartedly endorsed the project as “…an appropriate way to recognize the contributions to North Carolina’s history.”
Public hearings had been held statewide, and the NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources, along with the NC African American Heritage Commission and NC Historical Commission, was coordinating.
But when Republican legislative leaders unveiled their final $24 billion fiscal budget in June, the Freedom Monument Project was nowhere in sight, but $5 million towards a $65 million Civil War Center in Fayetteville was.
With no funding from the GOP-led legislature, the Freedom Monument Project was automatically placed in limbo.
“Budgets show what you value,” said NC Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin. “Governor Cooper, through his budget, outlined how important it is that our State remember and honor our shared history. Republicans clearly feel otherwise. They’d rather give their offices an upgrade. I’m not sure the difference could be any clearer: Republicans value themselves and their power, while Governor Cooper wants to see our State remember on capital grounds our full heritage.”
Jamal Little, a spokesperson for Gov. Cooper, said the Governor still wants to see the African-American monument erected near the State Capitol in Raleigh.
“The Freedom monument is long overdue, and Governor Cooper still strongly supports funding the project,” Little said. “Unfortunately, the same legislative Republicans who are standing by North Carolina’s Confederate monuments neglected to include Governor Cooper’s $200,000 request in the final budget. That’s just wrong, and Gov. Cooper supports efforts by the NC Legislative Black Caucus to have the program funded.”
The Governor’s strong and steady support is indeed important, but given the events of the past two weeks, even that is not enough to get Republican legislative leaders to drop their defenses, and realize that the Freedom Monument Project is what all North Carolinians should share.
Since the violent Charlottesville demonstrations that saw the murder of a counter protester by an alleged Neo-Nazi sympathizer, and then the taking down of a Confederate statue by demonstrators in front of the Old Durham County Courthouse, the atmosphere has been highly charged, especially after Gov. Cooper announced that he wanted to see all Confederate statues and monuments on State property removed because they celebrated White supremacy and a 2015 law prohibiting such repealed.
State Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger replied that that wasn’t going to happen and that those monuments were important memorials to North Carolina’s southern heritage.
Sen. Bryant says trying to successfully navigate funding for the Freedom Monument Project in these current treacherous political waters would be foolhardy at best, so she and the rest of the NCLBC work continue to work behind the scenes until further notice.
“We still have negative risks that come with this project that we don’t necessarily need,” Sen. Bryant says.