North Carolina is one step closer to replacing the statue of Charles Brantley Aycock, a known white supremacist, that currently resides in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. A state legislative committee just gave sculptor Chas Fagan the green light to move forward with creating a statue of the Rev. Billy Graham to represent the state instead.
“We wanted (the statue) to be someone who really made a significant impact in the lives of the state and the country and the world,” said former State Rep. Dan Soucek, who is a Republican. “When people from all over the country and all over the world walk through Washington and say, North Carolina has two choices to be in here, what do we want them to be?”
Removing the Statue of Aycock
Every U.S. state is represented in Statuary Hall by two historical figures (North Carolina’s other statue is of Zebulon Baird Vance, who was a governor and Confederate military officer). Even though the move to replace Aycock’s statue comes amid widespread calls to get rid of racially offensive memorials throughout the nation, Soucek’s plans have been in the works for several years. In fact, it was in 2015 that Soucek co-sponsored a bill calling for the statue’s removal and suggesting a statue of Graham as a replacement.
The process of replacing the statue of Aycock, which has been in the Capitol building since 1932, began in April 2018 when Soucek was named to a Statuary Hall Selection Committee. He told reporter John Newsom that he got the idea for the bill when he was in Statuary Hall and a constituent pointed out Aycock’s legacy of white supremacy. Later, another constituent suggested replacing that statue with one of Billy Graham.
Even though the current racial unrest in the U.S. was not the catalyst for replacing the statue of Aycock, Soucek believes current events will allow the process to move faster than it would have otherwise. The House Appropriations Committee recently introduced a bill calling for the removal of all Confederate statues or busts in public areas of the U.S. Capitol building, and the bill mentioned Aycock specifically. While the House voted to pass the bill on July 22nd, it is not yet clear whether the Senate will consider it, nor whether President Trump would sign the bill if it came to him.
Regardless, North Carolina is moving forward with its own plans. Now that Soucek’s committee has approved a two-foot model of the statue of Graham, sculptor Chas Fagan will move forward with creating the life-sized one, reports Religion News Service (RNS). Once Fagan’s new model is complete, a congressional committee will have to approve it before it is cast in bronze. Fagan, who is based in Charlotte, has been commissioned for several other high-profile pieces, such as the statue of President Ronald Reagan that is in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and the statue of St. John Paul II that is outside Washington’s Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
The Charlotte Observer reports that Fagan will depict Graham holding a Bible in one hand while pointing to a passage of Scripture with another. In addition to Graham’s name and the state’s name, the base of the statue will have crosses and Bible verses etched on it.
A Tale of Two Men
Charles Brantley Aycock was an outspoken proponent of white supremacy and played a key role in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. That incident featured an actual coup d’état in which white leaders overthrew the local government leaders of Wilmington, burned the offices of a Black newspaper, and murdered an unknown number of Black citizens. After those leaders gained control over the city government, they passed the first Jim Crow legislation in the state.
Once removed, the statue of Aycock is expected to be moved to the site of his birthplace in Wayne County.
Billy Graham, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 99, stands in contrast to Aycock. Graham is primarily known for his legacy of evangelism, as well as for being a spiritual advisor to many U.S. presidents, no matter their political leanings. Soucek sees Billy Graham as an obvious choice to represent the state of North Carolina. “From a Christian religious point of view, Billy Graham is an undeniable worldwide icon,” he said. It is worth noting that Graham has two highways in the state named after him and the Billy Graham Library is a popular tourist attraction.
According to RNS, no state money will go toward Billy Graham’s statue, the cost of which is estimated at $650,000. Rather, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is partnering with the state to raise money to fund it.
Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and President and CEO of the North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, has seen a rendering of the statue and observed, “My father would be very pleased that people thought of him in this way, but he would want people to give God the glory and not himself.”