Two co-chairs have been named to a new committee that will dig into what can and should be done with the remnants of a Confederate monument that was toppled last summer and any other vestiges of the Confederacy in Durham.
Robin Kirk and Charmaine MicKissick-Melton were selected by Wendy Jacobs, chair of the county Board of Commissioners and Durham Mayor Steve Schewel to head up the City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments and Memorials
Kirk is a faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute and is a founding member of the Pauli Murray Project. She is also a commissioner on the North Carolina Committee of Inquiry on Torture and was a consultant for the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which helped the city grapple with the deadly 1979 clash between Communist Workers Party and Ku Klux Klan members that came to be known as the Greensboro Massacre.
McKissick-Melton is the youngest daughter of the late Judge Floyd B. McKissick Sr. an associate professor in the Department of Mass Communication at North Carolina Central University, and a public speaker who shares her experiences growing up in the Civil Rights movement amidst its leaders.
"We know that they really won't convene until April but we wanted to give them (the co-chairs) time to start planning and talking," said Jacobs.
The committee still needs ten more members, who will be chosen from a pool of applicants by the City Council and the Board of County Commissioners in April. The application
to serve on the volunteer committee is open through March 19.
They'll be tasked with gleaning public input and coming up with a recommendation of what to do with the stone base of a Confederate monument that sits on county grounds, just in front of administration building that used to serve as a courthouse and now houses several county departments as well as the commissioners' chambers. They'll also catalog any other symbols of the Confederacy in Durham, including the names of buildings and streets. Those recommendations are expected in November.
In August, in the wake of violent clashes at a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, protesters pulled a figure of a Confederate soldier off of the stone podium. Charges against twelve people for damaging the monument have been dropped
, and the crumpled statue remains in a county warehouse. The county hasn't indicated any intent to put the soldier back in its place (in a letter to District Attorney Roger Echols commissioners said the monument has "no moral value"
for the community) but the committee will also make a recommendation as to what to do with the figure.
The committee will be limited in their mission by a 2015 law that says "objects of remembrance" on public property can't be removed permanently. There is an exception that allows for the removal of a monument that a "building inspector or similar official has determined poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition."
A monument can be moved
to preserve it (for example, from flooding or vandalism) or to make way for construction. But, a monument moved permanently from its place has to be relocated "to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction." The statute does not appear to rule out altering a local government-owned monument, for example by adding other objects or covering the monument.
The committee was originally intended to also look at what people, places and events in Durham history should be memorialized. That will be up to the city's Sesquicentennial Task Force, announced by Schewel in his State of the City address, which will plan for the 150th anniversary of the city's incorporation.
"This is our chance to face our history head on, the good and the bad, and to uplift and celebrate through
story-telling and the arts those heroes in our past who we need to honor and memorialize," Schewel said. "It’s going to be awesome.