The hearings are expected to push forward a project that began in 2010, when a study committee recommended — and a state commission approved — lifting a moratorium on monuments on the Capitol grounds so that African-Americans, women and American Indians could join the ranks of those honored.
The only black person now depicted in a sculpture there is anonymous soldier who's one of three faces on the Vietnam War monument.
"The most symbolically important public space in the state does not fully or even adequately capture the historical experience of all North Carolina and certainly not of African-Americans in North Carolina," said Fitz Brundage, chairman of the history department at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill whose research includes white and black historical memory in the South since the Civil War.
And that matters because people of all races built North Carolina, said Patricia Timmons-Goodson, who was the first black woman to sit on North Carolina's Supreme Court and is now a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Enslaved African Americans were among those who built North Carolina's Capitol, which was completed in 1840.
Timmons-Goodson noted the lack of diversity in the Capitol statuary when she presided at a swearing-in ceremony for the state African-American Heritage Commission in February 2009. At the ceremony, she voiced her dismay that from the window of her judicial office, she could see visiting black school children who found no one who looked like them reflected in those monuments.
"You make as big a statement in what you do not say as in what you say," Timmons-Goodson said in an interview last week. "If you take the time to commemorate some but not others, what is the message to those that are not commemorated? I don't think it's a positive one."
Seeing the black children on the Capitol grounds reminded her of her experience as a 7th-grader in Florence, South Carolina, when she couldn't relate to the memorials she saw during a field trip to Charleston, South Carolina, she said.
Existing monuments include those honoring Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War, white supremacy activist Gov. Charles Aycock, and President Andrew Jackson, who oversaw the forced removal of Cherokee Indians from their homelands in the 1830s, resulting in thousands of deaths.
In its 2010 report, the study committee said North Carolina has lagged behind neighboring states in the diversity of the memorials on the Capitol grounds. It noted a large, multi-panel memorial was dedicated in 2001 adjacent to South Carolina's Capitol in Columbia.
It also mentioned an African-American memorial in Virginia depicting eight students and parents in Prince Edward County, a scene of early protests against segregated protests. The $3.2 million Richmond monument, made of granite and bronze, includes a quotation by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The first hearing will be held Tuesday evening at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro. People will be asked to weigh in on questions such as the thematic elements of the monument and its materials and scale.
After the hearings, a committee will seek a consensus based on public comments and eventually, the state will work with an artist to develop the monument, said Mike Hill, chief historian with the state Historical Commission.
The project was resurrected last summer after nine black people were shot and killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, said Susan Kluttz, secretary of the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources. A white man who posed for pictures with the Confederate flag is charged with murder in those deaths.
No money has been budgeted for the monument, Kluttz said, although she hopes legislators will approve some spending. The rest likely will come from private fundraising, she said.
Hearings also will be held March 8 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte; March 22 at Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount; and March 29 at Shaw Auditorium at Fayetteville State University.
A possible location for the monument is a corner diagonal from the First Baptist Church founded by blacks and across the street from the Supreme Court offices where Timmons-Goodson once bemoaned the lack of black faces in the statuary.
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner
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