Duke University removes contentious Confederate statue after vandalism

Aug 19 (Reuters) - Duke University removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the entrance of a chapel on the Durham, North Carolina, campus, officials said on Saturday, days after it was vandalized.

The decision to take down the statue followed discussions among students, faculty, staff and alumni about maintaining safety on campus, university President Vincent E. Price said in a statement.

RELATED: Confederate monuments that still remain across the country

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Confederate monuments that still remain across the country
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Confederate monuments that still remain across the country
A bronze statue, titled the Confederate SoldieR is viewed in downtown Alexandria, Virginia, on August 14, 2017. He stands in the middle of the street, his back to the nation's capital as he gazes southwards towards the bloody battlefields of the Civil War. Erected nearly 130 years ago, the bronze statue of an unarmed Confederate soldier sits at a busy intersection in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington,DC.The Alexandria statue, known as 'Appomattox,' is one of hundreds of similar monuments across the American South honoring the Confederate dead.Debate over what to do with these controversial symbols of the Confederacy has been simmering for years and is likely to intensify after boiling over into bloodshed at the weekend. / AFP PHOTO / Paul J. Richards / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY CHRIS LEFKOW- 'Pressure builds to remove Confederate statues following clashes over plans to pull down a monument to rebel commander Robert E. Lee in a Virginia city' (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A monument to former U.S. Vice President and Confederate General John Cabell Breckinridge stands outside the Old Courthouse in Lexington, Ky., U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 04: A view of the Jefferson Davis monument on May 4, 2017 in New Orleans, Loiusiana. The Louisiana House committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs voted Wednesday to advance House Bill 71 that would forbid the removal of Confederate monuments in Louisiana as the City Council in New Orleans tries to move three statues of Confederate luminaries from public spaces and into museums. Protests that have at times turned violent have erupted at the site of the Jefferson Davis Monument after the Battle at Liberty Place monument was taken down in the middle of the night on April 24. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A general view of the Confederate monument in Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia - completed in 1879 the monument is dedicated to those who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, USA - MAY 7, 2017: A person in opposition to the removal of monuments to the Confederacy holds confederate flags against the Robert E. Lee statue in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Annie Flanagan for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE - DECEMBER 31: Belle Kinney's Confederate Women's Monument in War Memorial Plaza on December 31, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
Farmville, VA - January 12 : A confederate monument stands across the street from Ruffner Hall at Longwood University. University President, W. Taylor Reveley IV is fond of saying the civil war ended at one end of Longwood's campus, and the modern civil rights era begin at the other end of campus. (Photo by Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post via Getty Images).
A memorial to Confederate soldiers stands on the banks of the Ohio River in Brandenburg, Kentucky, U.S. May 29, 2017. The memorial was recently removed from the campus of the University of Louisville. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston
A monument of Robert E. Lee, who was a general in the Confederate Army, is removed in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
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"I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university," Price said.

The prestigious university will preserve the statue of Lee, who led Confederate forces in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, and use it as an educational tool so that students can study "Duke's complex past," Price added.

The Confederacy, comprised of 11 Southern states, broke from the Union largely to preserve the institution of slavery.

Symbols of the Confederacy have come into focus since last weekend, when white nationalists, angered at the planned removal of a statue of Lee from a park in Charlottesville, Virginia, engaged in violent protests where a counter-protester was killed.

The Robert E. Lee statue, one of 10 outside Duke Chapel, was vandalized and defaced late on Wednesday night. Campus security discovered the damage early Thursday, according to university officials. The incident was under investigation.

"Wednesday night's act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke's gates," Price said.

"We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination," he said.

Duke will form a committee to advise the school on how to properly memorialize historical figures on campus, and to recommend teaching programs, exhibitions and forums to explore its past.

There are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy, including 700 monuments and statues, in public spaces across the United States, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

The large majority of these were erected long after the Civil War ended in 1865. Many went up early in the 20th century during a backlash among segregationists against the civil rights movement.

More than a half-dozen have been taken down since last week. (Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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