Charlotte uses technicality to move Confederate monument

A monument that used to sit outside the old Old City Hall will be moved to Elmwood Cemetery, City Manager Ron Carlee says.
A monument that used to sit outside the old Old City Hall will be moved to Elmwood Cemetery, City Manager Ron Carlee says. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

With calls nationally to remove Confederate monuments, Gov. Pat McCrory in July signed a bill that prevents local and state government from removing an “object of remembrance” on public property that commemorates a historical event.

The law protects Confederate monuments and memorials, which have come under increasing scrutiny nationwide as being offensive. The criticisms intensified after the Charleston church killings in June.

So how did Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee agree to move a granite monument to the Confederacy from the lawn of Old City Hall to Elmwood Cemetery without violating this law?

The monument, erected in 1977, was vandalized on July 14 or early morning on July 15, according to police. With black spray paint, someone wrote “Racist” on the granite.

Soon after, the city moved the monument for cleaning. It has been in a warehouse ever since.

On July 24, McCrory signed the “Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act.”

The city’s position is that because the monument had already been taken down, it isn’t subject to the act.

“It’s a technicality,” City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Tuesday, after Carlee told City Council about his decision Monday night.

“(When the bill became law) the monument was really nowhere,” he said.

Carlee told council members that the person who raised money for the monument, Larry Walker Jr., suggested its relocation to the cemetery. No council members objected.

Walker Jr., a Vietnam War veteran, raised $706 to put the marker on a foundation laid by the city’s landscaping supervisor.

Walker said Tuesday that’s not accurate.

He said his preference would be for the monument to return to Old City Hall, where it had been for 38 years. He said he emailed council members and got no response.

He was contacted by someone in the manager’s office, who had an offer to move the monument to the cemetery.

“The original request was to return it to Old City Hall,” he said. “There was no response on that.”

He said the cemetery is a good alternative.

“If they won't return it to the orginal site, then I would want them to return it to a historic site,” Walker said.

In 1977, City Council didn’t vote on installing the monument. Former Mayor Harvey Gantt, then a council member, criticized the process that allowed the monument to be placed on the lawn.

When the city monument was vandalized this summer, a similar memorial on county property near Memorial Stadium was also defaced. The county cleaned the monument and then returned it to the same site. It’s now covered with Plexiglass.

The move of the city monument to Elmwood Cemetery isn’t complete yet. Hagemann said the Historic Landmarks Commission must approve the move.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs