“As a recent op-ed revealed in the News & Observer this week, the over-sized portrait of Thomas Ruffin, a 19th century NC Supreme Court Justice who strongly espoused pro-slavery views both on and off the bench, and was a notoriously brutal slave-owner himself, still hangs in a prominent place in the court room of the NC Supreme Court. Ruffin is best known for his decision in State v. Mann, often described among the most notorious legal cases dealing with slavery, and a statue of him is still on display in the Court of Appeals building in Raleigh, which was formerly named the Ruffin Building. Yesterday, the NC Supreme Court took the laudable step of creating an advisory commission to consider matters related to the portraits of former justices of the Court.
“As a body comprised of judges, attorneys, law enforcement and law professors, all concerned about racial and ethnic disparities in North Carolina’s criminal and juvenile justice system, we applaud the NC Supreme Court’s decision to create an advisory commission to examine the matter of the portraits. Last year, NC-CRED called for the removal of all Confederate monuments, memorials, flags, and other symbols and markers of racism and white supremacy from public spaces inside and outside of courthouses, and we feel this is an important step in that direction.
“No one should be forced to endure a celebration of racism and white supremacy while inside a public courthouse,” said James Williams, Chair of the NC-CRED Board of Directors and a former public defender. “We hope this newly created commission will take a hard look at the legacy of former Justices, including that of Thomas Ruffin, and reconsider whether or not such a place of privilege is appropriate for men who actively profited from slavery, and aggressively perpetuated white supremacy, in North Carolina.”