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Asheville’s Vance Monument court fight is ‘over’ with obelisk remains to be destroyed

Demolition is well underway at the former site of the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville, Wednesday, May 22, 2024.
Felicia Sonmez
Demolition is well underway at the former site of the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville, Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed in Buncombe Superior Court by a Confederate history preservation group seeking to block the demolition of the Vance Monument.

The ruling by Judge Karen Eady-Williams means the city and county can move forward as planned with the redevelopment of the site where the towering obelisk once stood. The monument was erected in 1897 in honor of former North Carolina governor, senator and Confederate officer Zebulon Vance.

“I can confirm that the latest lawsuit, along with its request for a restraining order to stop the demolition work, was dismissed last week in Buncombe County Superior Court,” Asheville City Attorney Brad Branham told BPR in an email Wednesday. Buncombe County Attorney Curt Euler also confirmed the decision.

News of the dismissal was first reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times. Staff at the Buncombe Superior Court told BPR the dismissal was issued verbally during a hearing on the case last week.

Edward Phillips, legal counsel for the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops, said in a phone interview Thursday that the case is “over” and that the group does not plan any further legal action.

“The matter was dismissed,” Phillips said. “And I’ve been instructed not to move forward with an appeal.”

The Society has expressed interest in obtaining the remains, but Branham told BPR that the remains of the monument “will be disposed of pursuant to the terms of the City's agreement” with its contractor.

“The City is not entertaining any alternate proposals for these materials,” Branham said.

The Asheville City Council voted in 2021 to remove the monument, which for many was a painful symbol of racism. Vance and his family enslaved Black Americans, and during his years in political office, Vance had championed white supremacy and fought against Black Americans’ civil rights.

The Confederate history preservation group sued in 2021 to force the reinstallation of the monument, which it had paid to restore in 2015. The ensuing legal battle halted demolition before the monument’s base could be removed.

In March, the state Supreme Court ruled the demolition could resume. In a last-ditch effort to stop the removal, the group filed a new lawsuit against the city and county and asked for a restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Lawyers for the local governments filed motions for dismissal. The City of Asheville also unsuccessfully sought sanctions against the plaintiffs and to have the preservation group pay the city’s attorney fees.

Phillips said Thursday that while the case was dismissed, he felt “vindicated” by the judge’s ruling on sanctions and attorney fees because it affirmed that he and his client were acting in good faith.

For years, the city has stored the disassembled pieces of the Vance Monument at an undisclosed location, citing security concerns.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.
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