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City Council agrees to $6.6 million in funding for proposed Civil War history center

Agreement comes with stipulations on how historic accounts presented


Years after the request was first made, the Fayetteville City Council on Monday night gave organizers of a proposed Civil War history center what they wanted: $6.6 million.

The council voted 9-0 to direct City Manager Doug Hewett to sign an agreement on the funding with the foundation planning the N.C. History Center on the Civil War, Emancipation & Reconstruction.

The agreement would come with stipulations. The city funds would be spent only on brick-and-mortar construction; the City Council would have a representative on the foundation board; and the history accounts and exhibits would not glorify the “lost cause” of the South in the Civil War.

The City Council also is asking that the center chronicle the role of African Americans and their families during the second half of the 1800s.

If those stipulations are agreed upon in writing with the foundation board, Hewett will prepare a budget amendment to the council for a vote on Nov. 14 to appropriate $3.3 million for the project. After annual financial reports are completed, the city manager will bring another budget amendment to the council to appropriate the remaining $3.3 million of funding previously pledged.

That would be contingent on whether the appropriation would cause the city’s fund balance to fall below the council’s standard of 10%.

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Councilman Mario Benavente made the motion to approve offering the agreement. Mayor pro tem Johnny Dawkins seconded the motion.

“As we kind of close out this discussion, people have a right to be skeptical on issues on Civil War history because for over 150 years, we’ve been getting it wrong. We’ve been elevating myths,” Benavente said. “I remember being taught in school about this ‘war of Northern aggression.’ And it wasn’t until college that I learned the true history.

“And so, I’m excited about all the partners that are included,” Benavente continued. “There was still cause for us to be vigilant throughout this entire process, and I know we will be.”

The councilman said the history center will have an obligation to future generations.

“The most important aspect of this history center is going to be the future that we’re teaching the young people,” Benavente said. “You've heard about the Cumberland County schoolteachers who are already under-resourced. We’re getting ready to bring tens of millions of dollars from the state into our community to better educate our students. Our Tier 1 county is going to get tens of millions of dollars to better educate our students. So, any concern about being good stewards of our funds ought to recall that this is a great investment from the state into our community, and 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.”

Mac Healey, chairman of the history center foundation board, said after the council meeting that its organizers are thrilled that the City Council moved forward on funding for the planned project.

“And this triggers the county money, also,” Healy said, adding that the board has previously agreed to the city’s stipulations.

The projected cost of the history center is a total of $80 million, with the state legislature providing $60 million in its latest budget. The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners earlier this year reaffirmed its commitment of $7.5 million for the center contingent on the city standing by its commitment.

Mayor Mitch Colvin and other members of the City Council have long voiced reservations about funding a history center focused on the Civil War because some would see it as paying tribute to the Confederacy.

Officials of the center have said repeatedly that will not be the case.

“Just still wanted to make sure that it’s echoed, and we have discussed this over the years,” Councilman D.J. Haire said of the reservations.

“Like, what goes into the museum? What does not go into the museum? Is the community, the Black community, and the language — how far before (the agreement) runs out or if it ever runs out?” Haire said. “That has always been a concern of members of the public, which is some of the reason why it has drug on. And it’s a legitimate concern.”

Councilman Derrick Thompson then asked Healy and Mary Lynn Bryan, who is the foundation’s co-chairwoman, to come to the microphone.

"I want to make myself perfectly clear,” Thompson told the two. “I have always approved this project but always wanted to make sure we did it right and did it right the first time. My biggest concern is what will happen 10 or 15 years from now. You probably won't be here. And you probably won't be here, either."

“I’m going to try,” Bryan said to laughter.

“Once it's done, it's going to be turned over to the state,” Thompson said. “We can only hold the foundation accountable. … That's all I wanted."

"I can guarantee you, once it's worked out, there's no question we will do what we were supposed to do,” Bryan said.

Hewett said the organizers have been consistent in what they have said the history center will represent and how it will operate as an educational center that tells the historical stories from various perspectives, including those of Blacks, Native Americans and women. He said he has been involved in the discussion on the history center since 2016.

“We also learned at a recent meeting which has been consistent with what they told us, the goal is to develop this locally, with the state support, and also have the state take over this as a facility and be governed by the state,” Hewett said. “They would be managed and have oversight by the statewide board that focuses on historic issues.”

A member of the audience was escorted out of the meeting after he stood up and said that the city could use the $3.3 million appropriation to pay for more important things.

"It's totally one-sided," he said. "It's a priority thing.”

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Fayetteville, Civil War, history, museum