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Statue of antebellum North Carolina chief justice at court removed

The statue of a 19th-century North Carolina Supreme Court justice was removed on Monday from the entrance of the state Court of Appeals building. Chief Justice Thomas Ruffin is known in part for a ruling in which he concluded the slave owner’s power over his slave was absolute.

A flatbed pulled by a truck took away the full-body statue of Ruffin, which had sat under an overhang near the front door of the building, situated across the street from the old state Capitol and that once housed the Supreme Court. The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will store the statue temporarily until its new location is determined.

The statue was removed following recent topplings and damage to Confederate monuments in North Carolina and in other states. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered three such monuments be removed from the old Capitol grounds last month for public safety after one of them was damaged by protesters.

The State Capitol Police recently told the Court of Appeals about safety concerns in leaving the Ruffin statue in place, state courts spokesperson Sharon Gladwell said. The appeals court asked Cooper’s office for the statue to be removed.

Ruffin served on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1829 to 1852. He wrote an opinion that overturned the conviction of a slave owner for shooting in the back a slave who fled after refusing the owner’s orders. Ruffin wrote that a slave’s obedience “is the consequence only of uncontrolled authority over the body.”

A state Supreme Court commission was created in 2018 to review what to do about portraits of justices hanging in the current Supreme Court building. They include a large painting that sits on the wall behind the Supreme Court bench.

The commission is now supposed to complete its work by the end of this year. North Carolina has had two black chief justices, including current Chief Justice Cheri Beasley.

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