Inside County Government

Mecklenburg County guards Confederate monument with plexiglass

By Thursday evening, county officials had encased the Confederate monument at the Grady Cole Center in a wooden frame and Plexiglass container to safeguard it against vandalism.
By Thursday evening, county officials had encased the Confederate monument at the Grady Cole Center in a wooden frame and Plexiglass container to safeguard it against vandalism. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

To thwart vandals from again defacing a Confederate monument at the center of much controversy this summer, Mecklenburg County has encased the 1929 granite pillar in a plexiglass barrier.

The monument, perched on a hill under a tree at the Grady Cole Center on North Kings Drive, has twice been vandalized. On July 15, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say the monument had been smeared with liquid cement. Three weeks later, police say someone spray-painted the pillar with the names of eight of nine victims killed in the June mass shootings at a historic black church in Charleston.

The county has spent up to $750 to clean and restore the pillar twice.

After the second incident, officials began discussing ways to safeguard it against future vandalism. By Thursday evening, the county had built a wooden frame over the monument and installed a transparent plexiglass container around it.

Work is still underway but eventually people will be able to see the actual monument – touching it will just be harder. The plexiglass panels and frame cost $1,600, a county spokesman said.

The marker was unveiled in 1929 during the 39th reunion of the United Confederate Veterans and was engraved with language some consider racist. The monument’s inscription hails Confederate soldiers for “preserving the Anglo-Saxon civilization of the South.”

For years, it was in obscurity. But its existence became relevant amid national debate about Confederate imagery and a rash of vandalism on Confederate monuments throughout the South, including in North Carolina.

There’s no word on whether the county will install a security system around the monument, as previously believed. That’s likely because officials don’t want to tip off crooks, said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James.

“I’ve always said the minute you arrest one person and throw them in jail, the minute this sort of stuff stops,” he said.

Whether his theory will play out in Charlotte is unclear. James said police employ a “triage system” that pours manpower into investigating murders, rapes, arson and assaults but ignores property crimes.

A CMPD spokeswoman declined to comment, other than saying police don’t have any leads in the investigation but encourage anyone with information about the vandalism to contact Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600.

David Erdman, a Charlotte attorney and historian, is skeptical that plexiglass is a viable long-term solution. He agrees the county should protect monuments but said a practical fix might mean putting the Grady Cole monument in temporary storage. Even that, he said, might set a troubling pattern of removing monuments some find offensive.

“I don’t know how to protect this monument,” he said of the 1929 marker. “If this new plan works and they can clean off the plexiglass every time it gets messed up, then for now, that’s a practical solution.”

A 1977 marble monument that stood in front of the Old City Hall on Trade Street was also defaced last month, spray painted with the word “Racist.” Officials removed the marker and placed it in a warehouse for cleaning. By Thursday, it was still in that warehouse, a city spokeswoman said.

She added there was no deadline for “when or if it will” be returned to the Old City Hall.

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