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Butterfield: Remove NC governors' statues from Capitol

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Statues depicting Charles B. Aycock, left, and Zebulon Vance, right, are on display in the U.S. Capitol. North Carolina is already scheduled to replace Aycock's likeness with a statue honoring the Rev. Billy Graham.
Statues depicting Charles B. Aycock, left, and Zebulon Vance, right, are on display in the U.S. Capitol. North Carolina is already scheduled to replace Aycock's likeness with a statue honoring the Rev. Billy Graham.
Architect of the Capitol photos
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Rep. G.K. Butterfield wants statues of former North Carolina Govs. Charles B. Aycock and Zebulon Vance removed from the U.S. Capitol, along with other monuments that seven Democratic legislative leaders call “shameful reminders of slavery and segregation.”

Butterfield, D-Wilson, signed on to support House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s H.R. 7573. Lawmakers introduced the bill on Monday. 

Hoyer’s legislation would remove Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s bust in the old Supreme Court chamber and replace it with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall. Three statues in the National Statuary Hall’s collection — depicting Aycock, John C. Calhoun and John C. Clarke — are targeted for removal “because of those individuals’ role in defending slavery, segregation and white supremacy,” Butterfield’s congressional office said in a news release. 

Aycock’s statue is already scheduled for replacement — the state’s commissioned a statue of the Rev. Billy Graham to represent North Carolina in its stead. If passed, Hoyer’s bill would result in the Aycock monument’s removal before the Graham statue is ready for display. 

AYCOCK AND VANCE

Charles Brantley Aycock served as a spokesman for the Democratic Party’s 1898 “white supremacy” campaign, according to a biography on East Carolina University’s website. That initiative “successfully took power from the Populist and Republican parties statewide.” 

Aycock was elected governor in 1900 and earned renown as an advocate for public education.

East Carolina removed Aycock’s name from a campus residence hall in 2015, citing his white supremacist views. He remains the namesake for C.B. Aycock High School near Pikeville. The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Division of State Historic Sites and Properties operates the Gov. Charles B. Aycock Birthplace State Historic Site, a property near Fremont that includes a 1900-era schoolhouse and other historic buildings. 

The Capitol building’s National Statuary Hall collection consists of two statues donated from each of the 50 states. North Carolina’s honorees are Aycock and Zebulon Vance, a former governor and U.S. senator. Vance’s likeness is on display in the statuary hall and Aycock’s statue is in the Capitol’s first-floor crypt, directly beneath the Rotunda. 

Vance was a colonel in the Confederate Army and became governor in 1862, serving during the Civil War. While the statue removal bill names Aycock and not his fellow former governor, it specifies that states must reclaim and replace any Capitol statues depicting “individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America.”

Vance remained a Confederate supporter, but as governor, he clashed with Confederate President Jefferson Davis over conscription, property seizures and wartime due process, according to the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography.

After the war, Vance was briefly imprisoned in Washington, but later received a pardon. North Carolina elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1870, though the 14th Amendment prevented him from serving. He was elected governor again in 1876, then won another U.S. Senate election. Once seated, he served until his death in 1894.

Vance County and the Wake County town of Zebulon are both named for the former senator. 

‘A DARK HISTORY’

Butterfield draws a distinction between learning about historical figures and lionizing them in prominent public spaces.

“A nation cannot rewrite its history, but we can and should be intentional of who we honor and what we celebrate,” Butterfield said in a prepared statement. “The United States of America has a dark history of slavery, segregation and systemic racism, but our present should reflect our progress and not our shameful past.”

The Wilson congressman said the Capitol is no place to memorialize people who defended the subjugation of Black Americans.

“The dome of the U.S. Capitol is adorned with the Statue of Freedom for all to see, while the halls within still house statues honoring segregationists, proponents of slavery and white supremacists. Enough,” Butterfield said. “While our nation continues to heal the wounds of the past, we must make the clear and unequivocal statement that there is no room in the People’s House for those who have perpetuated hate and division in the United States of America.”

While President Donald Trump has opposed efforts to remove Confederate monuments, a Republican representing North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District agrees with Butterfield.

“Governor Aycock represents a legacy of racism and oppression that does not reflect the values of this legislative body and the prompt removal of his statue would serve as a symbol of the high ideals we hold as Americans,” Rep. Mark Walker wrote in a June 15 letter to Brett Blanton, architect of the Capitol. 

Walker asked Blanton to “expedite the removal” of Aycock’s statute, “leaving the space vacant until the statue of Reverend Graham is completed.” 

The Charlotte Observer reported last week that artist Chas Fagan is completing a model of the Billy Graham statue for stakeholders’ review, and the full-size monument should be finished in late 2021. 

Language requiring the removal of Confederate and white supremacist statues from the Capitol is also included in a spending bill filed earlier this month. While it isn’t clear which version will advance, Hoyer said the House will vote on H.R. 7573 next week. 

Co-sponsors include Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass of California, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Rep. Barbara Lee of California. 

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