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Confederate statue in Lexington can be moved, judge decides

Confederate statue in Lexington can be moved, judge decides

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Davidson

City officials in Lexington argued that the Confederate monument in downtown is a public nuisance and poses a public safety risk.

Lexington can remove a downtown Confederate monument after a judge on Thursday revoked a temporary restraining order that barred the city from doing so. 

Judge Edwin G. Wilson Jr. of Davidson Superior Court rescinded Davidson County's temporary restraining order because county officials failed to ask for a preliminary injunction in the case, according to Wilson's order.

In late September, Stephen Holton, Lexington's city attorney, filed a legal action against Davidson County and the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The city argued that the Confederate monument is a public nuisance and poses a public safety risk.

The city also wanted the court's permission to remove the statue from its downtown Lexington location.

However, on Oct. 8, Judge Lori Hamilton of Davidson Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order for Davidson County that prevented Lexington officials from removing the monument. In court papers, the county questioned whether the city has the legal authority to remove the statue from county-owned land.

In a news release on Oct. 9, the city said that Debra Barta, the president of UDC's Lee chapter, expressed frustration about the county's action to get its temporary restraining order.

Barta couldn't be reached Thursday to comment about the matter.

 "We remain grateful that the monument’s owners were willing to work with us on this solution," Lexington Mayor Newell Clark said after Wilson's ruling, "and are hopeful this is another key step toward a peaceful resolution during this important moment in history."

City officials "will continue working with the appropriate parties to plan for the safe and respectful removal of the monument," Clark said.

During Thursday's court hearing, Wilson was presented an agreement between the city of Lexington and the UDC in which the monument will be moved from the Old Courthouse Square to another location outside the Lexington city limits, a city official said.

Under the agreement, the city of Lexington will pay the costs of removing the statue and any related storage costs. After the statue is removed, the city will dismiss its lawsuit against the UDC regarding the monument, according to the agreement.

Holton couldn't be reached to comment on Wilson's ruling.

Charles Frye III, Davidson County's attorney, declined to comment on Wilson's ruling because the litigation is still pending and pointed to Wednesday's statement issued by the Davidson County Board of Commissioners about the matter.

Frye also declined to the say whether Davidson County officials would appeal Wilson's ruling.

"The Confederate Memorial in Lexington should be retained in its current location, as a memorial and tribute to the Davidson County men who lost their lives during the Civil War," the statement said in part. "The United Daughters of the Confederacy agreement with the city of Lexington to remove the memorial, however, puts an end to the County's ability to honor and preserve this memorial."

Wilson's ruling followed recent protests and increasing tensions among city and county residents regarding the Confederate statue.

Lexington's monument and a similar statue in Winston-Salem were erected in 1905 during the era of Jim Crow discrimination and white mob violence against Black residents in North Carolina and throughout the South.

In March 2019, city officials in Winston-Salem removed the Confederate monument in the Twin City's downtown and put it in storage. The UDC sued the city and Forsyth County on Jan. 31, 2019 before the statue's removal.

In court papers, the UDC said that Forsyth County owns the statue because the county excluded it when Forsyth officials sold the courthouse property in 2014. The county denied that it owned the statue. The city argued that the monument no longer stood on public land.

Judge Eric Morgan of Forsyth Superior Court dismissed the UDC's lawsuit in May 2019. The UDC appealed Morgan's ruling to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The state appellate court will consider the appeal, a court official said Thursday.

The UDC filed a new lawsuit in May against the city of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, asserting that the UDC owns the statue and that the city illegally removed the group's property last year.

Forsyth County and Winston-Salem officials have filed motions, asking the Forsyth Superior Court to dismiss UDC's latest court action against them.

The statue remains in storage. 

336-727-7299

@jhintonWSJ

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