BY CASH MICHAELS OF THE WILMINGTON JOURNAL
In the aftermath of reports that the Republican-led General Assembly did not appropriate $200,000 proposed by Governor Roy Cooper for the long planned Freedom Monument project to honor Black contributions to North Carolina history, comes word that the State Senate actually cut funding to the NC African American Heritage Commission, a part of the NC Dept. of Resources, in effect attempting to cripple the commission going forward.
Speaking on behalf of the NC Legislative Black Caucus about the General Assembly’s failure to fund the Freedom Monument, planning for which began under Republican Governor Pat McCrory at least as far back as 2015, Senator Angela Bryant (D-Halifax), in addressing the current status of the project, revealed what Senate Republicans initially did.
“While funding for the monument was a priority for the Legislative Black Caucus, we were not successful in securing funding this cycle. Instead, we were relegated to fighting to continue the staffing for the African American Heritage Commission, which was cut in the Senate Budget and restored in the House Budget and the final conference report.”
Senator Bryant later went on, saying that there is no connection between “…the funding for the Civil War Center in Fayetteville (for which the conference report shows a $5 million appropriation – 25 times the $200,000 for the Freedom Monument that was not appropriated) and the African American Freedom Monument.”
“The Civil War Center is a local economic development project with relatively broad support from the Fayetteville local government and community,” Senator Bryant added.
According to the Winston-Salem based primary fundraiser for the Civil War Center, of the approximately $27 million raised for its construction, funding came from Fayetteville, Cumberland County, and now $5 million from State government.
About $7 million of the total comes from private funds.
“We need to develop a similar constituency of support for the African American Freedom Monument and secure the needed funding in the upcoming short session (which according to published reports may be August and September), Senator Bryant said.
“The Legislative Black Caucus will continue to focus on the Freedom Monument project as a priority, including an update on all efforts – design, fundraising, advisory efforts and efforts of the Dept. of Cultural Resources,” Bryant continued.
“We do need to move it forward.”
Michelle Lanier, Director of the NC African American Heritage Commission, was not available for comment, but a spokesperson for the commission confirmed that, without the $200,000 appropriation from the legislature, the planning and design for the project cannot go forward. Furthermore, according to the spokesperson, there is no Plan B for private funding.
Thus far, neither House Speaker Tim Moore nor Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger has responded to inquiries as to why the Freedom Monument was not funded in the final conference report.
“This was negotiated after the full [committee] chairs finished all the budget work that was asked of us,” said Representative Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), one of the budget committee members.
“I’m troubled that Republican legislative leaders neglected to fund an African American heritage monument on State Capitol grounds,” Governor Cooper said in a statement.
“My Republican colleagues have once again decided to ignore the history of the people they serve. I hope that we are able to find common ground to fund a project that is long overdue,” Senator Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) added.
“These mean spirited actions are just two of the many reasons that I voted against the budget in all of its iterations,” added Representative Amos Quick (D-Guiford).
“The Republicans presented no budget that I could vote for. The fact that there is a failure to recognize the significant and vital contributions of African Americans to this State should motivate voters who care about these matters to vote a difference in the upcoming elections,” Representative Quick said.
He added that whether a three judge panel orders special elections for this year or in the upcoming 2018 special elections, “We must vote the Republicans out of office!”