RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper sought formal permission Friday to move three Confederate monuments from the old Capitol grounds to a Civil War site in a nearby county.
One of his Cabinet secretaries petitioned the state Historical Commission to authorize the relocation of a large obelisk and two smaller statues to the Bentonville Battlefield, less than 50 miles away from Raleigh. The commission meets Sept. 22.
Following a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the toppling of a Confederate statute outside a Durham County government building by demonstrators, Cooper last month called for Confederate monuments to be taken down from public property across the state. He said at the time he would also ask a state agency to consider where monuments on state property could be moved.
A 2015 state law approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, however, prevents the permanent removal of most Confederate monuments on state and local property without legislative approval and severely limits their relocation. Cooper, a Democrat, has said he also wants the law repealed.
The law says any relocation must be to a "site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated." In a petition to the commission, Administration Department Secretary Machelle Sanders contends the battlefield would qualify for that exception.
The Bentonville Battlefield marks the March 1865 battle — the largest ever fought in the state. The state historic site recalls the last full-scale action of the Civil War in which a Confederate army mounted a tactical offensive, a state website says.
Cooper said last month the state "cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery."
"Relocating these monuments to a historic Civil War site will help us preserve them and provide context for their history," Sanders said in an email statement. Opponents of the move are likely to question whether transferring them from the well-known Capitol Square to rural Johnston County complies with the relocation requirements.
Senate leader Phil Berger warned last month it was unwise to make an "impulsive decision to pull down every Confederate monument in North Carolina."
Referencing Hurricane Irma, Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver said late Friday by email that Cooper's decision to work to remove the monuments "instead of remaining laser-focused on the major hurricane bearing down on the Southeast shows he is continuing to concentrate on the wrong priorities."
The monuments at issue include the 75-foot tall monument completed in 1895 to the state's Confederate dead. The others are the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy Monument, dedicated in 1914, and the statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, dedicated in 1912. Wyatt is described on the statue's base as the first Confederate soldier killed in action during the Civil War.
The petition doesn't include the "Silent Sam" statue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which honors students who served in the Confederacy. It's been vandalized multiple times in recent years, and demonstrators during the fall semester have repeatedly called for its removal, leading to some tense moments around the monument with police. UNC administrators wrote to Cooper that they feared protesters could try to tear it down.
There are more than 100 rebel monuments around the state. Analyzing the law last month, professor Adam Lovelady at the University of North Carolina School of Government wrote online that for many Confederate monuments on public property "it may be challenging to find a relocation site of similar prominence."