Appeals court rejects bid to return Confederate statue to downtown Winston-Salem

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 18, 2020

WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — A Superior Court judge did not make a mistake when he dismissed a lawsuit seeking to return a statue of a Confederate soldier to downtown Winston-Salem, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled.

The 2-1 ruling dismissed the attempt by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to have the statue placed in the spot it had occupied before the city removed it in March 2019. City leaders cited potential dangers from protests over Confederate monuments in Winston-Salem and elsewhere, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. A series of protests involving supporters and opponents of the statue was held at the site that year, but none was violent.

Appellate Judge Wanda Bryant, writing for the majority, said the UDC had acknowledged erecting the statue but did not claim ownership of it and thus could show no legal interest in it. Consequently, Bryant wrote, Judge Eric Morgan’s dismissal of the lawsuit was proper.

Morgan ruled at the time that because the UDC didn’t assert ownership, it could not argue that it had suffered any injury because of the statue’s removal, and therefore lacked any grounds on which to sue. Morgan also rejected the group’s argument that its members are related to Confederate soldiers and thus suffered injury when the statue was removed.

Appellate Judge John Tyson wrote in his dissent that the UDC doesn’t have to show sole ownership of the statue to have a stake in the case. He also noted that the city had repeatedly identified the UDC as the statue’s owner by sending the group notice that it had to remove it. Tyson also said that because the statue’s ownership appears uncertain, it could be treated as unclaimed property and therefore, under state law, owned by the state.
The statue could also be seen as covered by a federal law that protects veterans’ memorials, Tyson wrote, adding that the city had no legal grounds to unilaterally remove the statue.

Attorney James A. Davis, representing the UDC, said that he and UDC officials were analyzing the court ruling to determine their next step. While he didn’t directly respond to whether an appeal was planned, Davis said Tyson’s dissent “may give you some insight on the likely course of action of our clients.”

The city has kept the statue in storage since taking it down, and plans to keep it there until all the legal challenges are resolved, Winston-Salem City Manager Lee Garrity said.