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Fayetteville mayor calls for change in proposed Civil War history center's name, concept

By JOHN HENDERSON | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: September 27, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Mayor Mitch Colvin is suggesting new names for a proposed Civil War history center in Fayetteville that would not mention the war at all.

The Civil War and slavery are sore subjects for many black people, and changing the name might help tone down the growing opposition to the project, including his own, Colvin said Thursday.

"I'm not closing the door on (the history center), but this concept and this name is problematic for me," Colvin said Thursday.

Colvin was among those in attendance at a community meeting at Smith Recreation Center on Thursday night.

The event was organized by former councilwoman Val Applewhite on behalf of an advocacy group called Advance Carolina, as well as the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Colvin told the crowd of more than 100 that he cannot support the project in its current concept.

Colvin said the project cannot move forward if there "is not dialogue to where people feel included."

He said some people are distrustful of what might end up in the history center and the messages it might convey about the Civil War.

Colvin said he's been on a listening tour and is calling for a city-sponsored public hearing or hearings on the proposal. He said promoters of the project put forth talking points about the millions in economic benefit from the museum and hundreds of jobs that might be created.

"Will they feel the same if this is called 'The African American' museum?'" Colvin said.

In December 2016, the City Council and Cumberland County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution of support for the project.

But since then, Colvin's support of the project has been waning. He said he's hearing from a growing number of residents, not just black people but people of other races, opposed to the project. Councilman D.J. Haire has been asking constituents at community meetings about their thoughts on the museum, as well.

He told the crowd that he is holding community meetings to get input from his constituents, and so far he has not received positive support.

"But I'm going to continue to talk to my community," Haire said.

Challengers for City Council seats either said they were opposed to the project or needed to hear more from people in their districts to make up their minds.

Councilman Ted Mohn said he voted for the project but is now open-minded and will base his vote on what he hears from the public.

Applewhite said councilman Larry Wright couldn't make it to the meeting, but she read a message from him saying that could not vote in support of the project at this time.

Councilwoman Kathy Jensen said the history center must include the African-American experience in the U.S. in broad terms, and not just the Civil War.

"I also believe that the name of the proposed history center must not be offensive," she said.

County Commissioner Marshall Faircloth, the vice chairman of the board, said county commissioners will not support a project that will divide this community.

History center officials say unanimous support from the city and county could be critical to the state funding coming down for the project, which would be a state museum. The House budget includes $46 million for the project over four years, and the Senate budget has not yet been voted on.

The audience included people who supported the project and those who opposed it.

Peter Murray passed out copies of opinion pieces he wrote in support of the history center.

"The North Carolina Civil War and Reconstruction History Center has the potential to establish for Fayetteville, Cumberland County, and the entire state of North Carolina a comprehensive account of how the Civil War and Reconstruction changed lives," he said.

Kathy Greggs, vice president of the Fayetteville Police Accountability Task Force, said as an Army combat veteran she believes in history. "But I also believe that we should not have to repeat history. We don't need another Charlottesville here. We don't need another Silent Sam here in Fayetteville. What we need is to fix our city and our issues that we have with the money we are trying to get from the state. We still have not recovered from Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Florence. We have issues with poverty."

State Rep. Marvin Lucas told the crowd that he was a co-sponsor of the bill that is in the House version of the budget funding $46 million for the project. He said he was following the guidance of a unanimous vote of the City Council and Cumberland County Board of Commissioners in 2016 in support of the project.

He said the project is a chance for the Fayetteville community to write the narrative for the history center.

"There will be no Silent Sam in this museum," he said.

On Sept. 18, Mary Lynn Bryan, the vice-chairman of the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center Foundation, sat down with Colvin, Jensen, developer Joe Riddle and lawyer Jonathan Charleston to discuss the project, according to a letter that Bryan wrote the following day to Colvin.

In her follow-up letter Sept. 19, Bryan tells Colvin that she understands that the name of the history center is one of the things that prevents him from fully supporting the project.

Bryan said Thursday that Colvin did not like the word "Civil War" used in the title of the project, and he proposed these as possible alternatives: North Carolina History Center, Slavery Rebellion and Reconstruction or North Carolina History Center, Rebellion and Reconstruction.

Colvin said he expressed to Bryan that he wants a good project for the city and the right name is critical.

"If her board is willing to reconsider the concept and the name then I am open-minded to sitting down, and let's figure out how to make that into a a project that the community could accept and bring this together," Colvin said Thursday afternoon.

jhenderson@fayobserver.com

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