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NC Supreme Court affirms Asheville's authority to remove Vance Monument

 The remaining base of the Vance Monument, captured July 2023.
BPR News
The City of Asheville is now authorized to remove the remaining base of the Vance Monument after a NC Supreme Court decision.

The City of Asheville can finalize its removal of the Vance Monument.

After a lengthy legal battle, the NC Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the group challenging the removal of the Confederate Monument in downtown Asheville did not prove their breach of contract claim against the city.

“This has been a long time coming. We're just very pleased in that the position we've always taken from the outset has been vindicated by the Court's decision today,” City Attorney Brad Branham told BPR. “So the most important thing is it allows us to effectuate what city council always wanted which is to move forward with a new vision for Pack Square.”

The decision was authored by Phil Berger Jr. It follows two years of legal battles that transpired while the final sliver of the monument — the base — remained in the heart of downtown Asheville, its fate in legal limbo.

For many community members, the obelisk – and the legacy of Zebulon Vance – represented an enduring symbol of racism. Vance, a Confederate officer and later a North Carolina governor and state senator, enslaved people prior to the Civil War and fought against civil rights for Black Americans in the 19th century.

 Pack Square Park in July 2023
BPR News
Pack Square Park is a focal point for demonstrations, art projects, and events in downtown Asheville.

The challengers, the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, raised about $140,000 to purchase and restore the monument in 2015. Under the terms of the contract, the group would then donate the obelisk back to the city.

The 26th Regiment took legal action to keep the Vance Monument in response to the City of Asheville’s decision to take down the 75-foot granite obelisk in March 2021.

The demolition followed the recommendation of a joint Vance Monument Task Force involving the City of Asheville and Buncombe County.

In April 2022, the state Court of Appeals unanimously decided that the group did not have standing to make a claim about the monument. The Supreme Court this week reversed the Court of Appeals on the issue of standing, but said the plaintiffs nevertheless failed because they “abandoned the merits of its breach of contract claim.”

26th Regiment legal counsel, Edward Phillips, declined to comment on the case.

For more than two years, the granite block pieces of the Vance Monument have remained disassembled at an undisclosed location, with only its base remaining at downtown Asheville’s Pack Square.

With this court decision, the city can move ahead with the removal of the base.

"Our plan is to pick up where we left off and complete the original removal efforts," Branham said. "That doesn't happen immediately overnight. Obviously, there's mobilization that has to be done... but our plan is to pick that up as soon as it's practical."

This article was updated to reflect that 26th Regiment legal counsel, Edward Phillips, declined to comment on the case.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.