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NC appeals court dismisses challenge to Louisburg's Confederate monument removal

The town of Louisburg relocated this Confederate monument that stood in the center of Main Street for more than a century.
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The town of Louisburg relocated this Confederate monument that stood in the center of Main Street for more than a century.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has rejected a lawsuit against the town of Louisburg's decision to move its Confederate monument.

The Confederate monument stood for more than a century in the center of Main Street in the Franklin County town. But in 2020, the Town Council voted to move the monument to a nearby cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried.

Town leaders worried protests against similar statues across the country could lead to a safety issue if protesters tried to remove the monument themselves. Between May 25, 2020 — the day of George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota — and Jun 14, 2021, at least 24 Confederate monuments were moved or removed in North Carolina, according to data tracked by WUNC.

Opponents of the decision filed a lawsuit against the town of Louisburg. They argued that the emergency Zoom meeting held to vote on the monument's future didn't comply with state open meetings laws. And they said the town violated a state law that bans the removal of monuments from public property.

But the appeals court's majority ruled that the plaintiffs didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit because they don't have an ownership stake in the monument.

While the lawsuit provides "various and conflicting positions about who owns the monument — whether it be Franklin County, a specific county commissioner, the town of Louisburg, or the Daughters of the Confederacy," Judge Fred Gore wrote that "each plaintiff party to this action either denies they have an ownership interest in the monument or admits they do not own the monument."

According to UNC-Chapel Hill's Department of Cultural Resources, the monument — which depicts a soldier holding a gun, standing atop an obelisk — is owned by the town of Louisburg, but the United Daughters of the Confederacy contributed money to build it.

Judge John Tyson filed a dissenting opinion. He wanted the case sent back to a lower court to address procedural issues, but his dissent doesn't suggest the lawsuit should succeed.

The Louisburg monument was installed in 1914 on a traffic median near the entrance to Louisburg College, which now has a majority Black student body. Local leaders have said they plan to replace it with a memorial honoring all local soldiers who died in wars.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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