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Bill Kirby Jr.: Civil War history center is all but a done deal


If you know anything about this city, you likely know about that Civil War history center the community has been hearing about off and on for the past six years.

Apparently, the education building to be known as the N.C. History Center on the Civil War, Emancipation & Reconstruction, barring the unforeseen on Nov. 14, will become a reality at the corner of Arsenal Avenue and Branson Street on the property of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex in the Haymount Historic District.

“We should look forward to all the benefits that it’s going to bring our young people as they learn the true history, as they engage with all these stories that, honestly, still impact politics today,” Mario Benavente, the 32-year-old freshman city councilman, told his colleagues Monday night before the council voted 9-0 to appropriate $6.6 million toward construction of the center.

It’s all but a done deal, with Mayor Mitch Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins and council members Kathy Keefe Jensen, Shakeyla Ingram, D.J. Haire, Derrick Thompson, Brenda McNair, Deno Hondros and Benavente aboard.

An exclamation point, if you will, on Dec. 12, 2016, when then-Mayor Nat Robertson and the council of Chalmers McDougald, Bobby Hurst, the late Bill Crisp, Larry Wright, Ted Mohn, Jim Arp, Colvin and Jensen approved a resolution in support of the center. Councilman Kirk deViere, now a state senator, was absent from that meeting.

There have been meetings and discussions ad nauseum and notably in the African American community about whether or not the story of the Civil War would accurately portray slavery before, during and after the Civil War, and rightly so, Benavente would say Monday before his motion for the $6.6 million investment was seconded by Dawkins.

“We will do what we are supposed to do,” Mary Lynn Bryan, vice chairwoman of the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center foundation board, would assure the council, as she and Chairman Mac Healy have promised all along.

City Manager Doug Hewett told the council Monday that the foundation has “been consistent” in its word dating back to 2016. And, Healy would tell the council Monday that the foundation has agreed to the final council’s mandates — that the $6.6 million be earmarked for construction only; a council member will be on the foundation board; and the history accounts and exhibits will not glorify a “lost cause” for the South in the Civil War.

“We agreed to the stipulations,” Healy, 64, would say after the vote.

The cost of the N.C. History Center on the Civil War, Emancipation & Reconstruction is projected to be more than $80 million, with $60 million already appropriated by the state legislature and the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners approving $7.5 million on Sept. 8, contingent on the city providing its $6.6 million pledge.

“We had to have the city,” a relieved Bryan would say after Monday’s vote. “It permits us to say we have the city and county to go along with private donations. We had to have the city.”

About $6 million to $8 million in private donations still needs to be raised, Healy said Thursday.

Just so you know

Now, just so all of us are clear about Monday’s vote and what is to come.

“Council approved the proposed agreement on Monday night, including their specified requests,” says Jodi Phelps, chief of staff for the city. “The associated budget appropriation, which formally authorizes the city to release funding in the amount of $3.3 million, would come back to council during the Nov. 14 meeting for approval. The remaining $3.3 million will be appropriated at a later date.”

The funding is part of the city’s $7.5 million commitment that was made in 2018, according to Phelps. The city’s contribution includes17 parcels of land valued at $870,000 to create a history center campus.

The N.C. History Center on the Civil War, Emancipation & Reconstruction will be state-owned and state-operated, and it will become a welcome community amenity, Healy says. It will generate $20 million annually, and it will be done right. Because Mac Healy and Mary Lynn Bryan are people of their respective words, and the two of them will have it no other way than the right way.

“The next step is construction bids,” Healy told the council, as well as an architectural design for the structure.


The last word goes to Councilman Mario Benavente.

“My understanding is that once the city manager and the foundation get things on paper,” Benavente says of the funding agreement, “it will just be a consent agenda item that shouldn’t necessitate any further debate.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.