Visitors to Duke Chapel react to damage on a statue of Robert E. Lee

Video: Vandals struck the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee outside Duke Chapel on Duke University’s campus sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday Aug. 17, 2016.
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Video: Vandals struck the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee outside Duke Chapel on Duke University’s campus sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday Aug. 17, 2016.

Durham County

Duke University removes statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Duke Chapel

By Mark Schultz and Joe Johnson;

August 19, 2017 03:59 PM


The new president of Duke University has ordered the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee after it was vandalized earlier this week.

“I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university,” President Vincent Price said in a statement released Saturday morning.

“The removal also presents an opportunity for us to learn and heal,” Price said, adding that the statue will be preserved so students “can study Duke’s complex past and take part in a more inclusive future.”

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At a news conference later Saturday, North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber, who holds a graduate degree in divinity from Duke, said he backed the move.

“That’s a good step,” Barber said. “I heard that [Price] said one of the reasons why it was removed was so that nobody would hurt the Chapel. But we can’t end with statue removal. It’s a good place to start. If the statue has come down, Duke and any other places must look at what other barriers are still up. What we don’t want to do is just have a season of pulling down statues.”

The statue was removed at 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, according to Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke. It took about an hour for a professional crew to remove the statue. It will be stored and its future has not been determined.

“It is an important part of history,” Schoenfeld said. “We want people to learn from it and study it and the ideas it represents. What happens to it and where it will be is a question for further deliberation.”

Schoenfeld said Price had consulted with numerous campus groups, which finally led to the removal of the statue.

“He had very strong support of the board of trustess and he made the decision yesterday,” Schoenfeld said.

Chapel dean weighs in

Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, said the removal of the statue will be part of a larger conversation about other icons on campus.

“The defacing of a house of worship is a disappointment,” Powery said. “But it has happened. I do think as a university it makes sense to take a look at other various other carvings or statues on campus as the president said. It’s unfortunate that we had the defacing rather than the conversation that may have even led to the same end that we saw today.”

Powery said he felt emotional walking up to the chapel on Saturday morning and seeing the empty alcove where the Lee statue stood.

“I looked at the empty space and couple of things came to mind,” Powery said. “I saw it as a hole, or a void. But it is a hole that in many ways represents a hole in the heart of the United States and the ongoing struggles of racism, hatred and bigotry – all the things we’re seeing in our streets. We haven’t come as far as perhaps we thought we had come as a nation.

“But at the same time, the open space represents an opening, an openess for conversation, an openess for healing, the possibility of healing that will come.”

The statue was vandalized sometime late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” he continued. “We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.”

Week of unrest, arrests

Price’s announcement followed a day of tension in Durham as hundreds of people gathered downtown in expectation of a march by the KKK or other white supremacist groups. The march did not happen, but the Sheriff’s Office had alerted comunity leaders to the possibility based on information it had gathered throughout the week. One man was arrested late in the day during a standoff in the street between police and a group of 50 to 75 protesters carrying anti-racist signs.

Eight people have been arrested in connection with the destruction of a Civil War monument in front of the Old Durham County Courthouse on Monday night.

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols released a statement Thursday, describing his views on future prosecutions in that case.

“I will not prosecute any people who simply participated in the protest and were not directly involved in destruction of the monument,” Echols said. “I will ask the county manager to consult with the county commissioners and provide me with a proper financial value for the monument and the cost of cleanup.”

Several hundred protesters march in downtown Durham, N.C. Friday afternoon, Aug. 18, 2017 after word circulated of a possible KKK rally at noon. The KKK rally did not happen.


In Chapel Hill, Mayor Pam Hemminger wrote to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt on Thursday, asking her to petition the state’s historical commission to have the statue of a Confederate soldier known as Silent Sam removed from McCorkle Place off Franklin Street and placed in storage.

Hemminger cited the toppling of a statue in downtown Durham and the damage to the Lee statue at Duke Chapel, saying “the statue presents a danger to students on campus and the Chapel Hill community.”

A few hundred demonstrators gathered Sunday at the Silent Sam statue, a memorial to Confederate soldiers, on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus violent clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville


In his statement, Price said he is creating a commission “to assist us in navigating the role of memory and history at Duke.”

“The commission will look at how we memorialize individuals on the Duke campus in buildings and sculpture and recommend principles drawn from Duke’s core values to guide us when questions arise,” he said.

“In addition, and in concert with Provost Sally Kornbluth, we will use the next year to explore various aspects of Duke’s history and ambitions through teaching and scholarship. This will include an exhibition in the Library; a campus conversation about controversy and injustice in Duke’s history; and a forum to explore academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly in the university. Further information about these programs will be forthcoming.”

“As this process moves forward, I welcome your thoughts about how Duke can best address the troubling events of the past few months, learn from a careful and unvarnished understanding of our national and institutional history, and build a stronger, more inclusive future as a university community.”

Mark Schultz: 919-829-8950; HeraldSunEditor

Statement by DA Roger Echols

Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols released the following statement on Thursday regarding legal resolution of arrests stemming from Monday night’s destruction of the downtown Confederate monument in front of the Old Durham County Courthouse:

“I am waiting to receive the full investigation material from the Durham County Sheriff’s department, including the video used to identify those charged.

I will not prosecute any people who simply participated in the protest and were not directly involved in destruction of the monument. I will ask the county manager to consult with the county commissioners and provide me with a proper financial value for the monument and the cost of cleanup.

As District Attorney for Durham, it is my job to seek a just resolution in this matter. A just resolution will include an analysis of the property damage. A just resolution must also include balancing accountability for the actual destruction of property and violation of the law with the climate in which these actions were undertaken. Justice requires that I must take into account the pain of the recent events in Charlottesville and the pain in Durham and the nation. Justice requires that I consider that Durham citizens have no proper recourse for asking our local government to relocate or remove this monument. Justice also requires that I be aware that asking people to be patient and to let various government institutions address injustice is sometimes asking more than those who have been historically ignored, marginalized or harmed by a system cane bare.

Thank you for your attention and for your support of Durham and our vibrant community.”