NORTH CAROLINA: Despite Top Court Ruling, Plaintiffs Try Again to Save Asheville Civil War Monument

ASHEVILLE – Despite recently losing their case less than two months ago in the North Carolina Supreme Court, plaintiffs attempting to stop the city’s removal of the Vance Monument have filed another lawsuit looking to save the once-prominent marker to a Confederate governor.

The Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th North Carolina Troops − which in 2015 paid $138,447 for the repair of the granite obelisk commemorating Gov. Zebulon Vance − has filed a new complaint May 6 in Buncombe County Superior Court.

In a March 22 decision, the state Supreme Court reversed an N.C. Court of Appeals ruling that said the society did not have standing. In the decision authored by Justice Phil Berger Jr., the high court said the society was in fact harmed and that the city could repair the harm. But the society failed to make arguments about its original breach of contract claim to the Supreme Court, Berger said. That meant the society “abandoned” the argument, he said, and lost the case.

H. Edwards Phillips, the attorney who represented the society in the prior case also filed the new complaint. The Citizen Times reached out to Phillips May 6.

In the new filing, Phillips restated prior claims that the payment for repair amounted to a contract.

“Given the nature of the Vance Monument and its long connection to downtown Asheville, it was reasonable for plaintiff and defendant city to share in the expectation that the Vance Monument would not be imperiled through the combined actions of the defendants in voting to remove the Vance Monument, thus ensuring its likely destruction” he wrote.

In a move to stop the last part of the monument from being removed during the case, the society is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

The court should then require the city rebuild the monument and pay compensatory damages in excess of $25,000 the suit says.

City Attorney Brad Branham declined to comment.

“The city hasn’t yet been served with this, therefore, we will need time to review the materials before we can comment,” Branham said.

On April 23, the City Council voted to re-up its contract with the firm that began removal in 2021. For an additional $109,402, on top of the original contract amount of $125,565, Chonzie, Inc., was to resume taking down the base of Vance Monument — all that is left of the once towering granite obelisk.

Born in the Reems Creek community near present-day Weaverville, Vance practiced law in Asheville, starting a political career in the N.C. Senate that included stints as governor and the U.S. Senate. He served as a Confederate officer in the Civil War before being elected governor. Vance was an enslaver and white supremacist, according to historical records, the Citizen Times has previously reported.

After years of calls by activists, racial justice protests and months of deliberation, the council voted in March 2021 to remove the monument, following a trend across parts of the South. But all work froze in June 2021 after the N.C. Court of Appeals granted a stoppage order sought by the society.