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An Empty Space, With Meaning

Duke opts to leave empty the spot in its chapel that formerly featured a statue of Robert E. Lee. The university hopes the vacant position will illustrate a “hole that is from the sin of racism and hatred of any kind.”

August 17, 2018
 

A year ago, in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., set off by white supremacists, Duke University removed from its chapel a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The statue was one of 10 at the entrance to the chapel. It was seen by many as an affirmation of the Confederate cause. The removal of the statue left open the question of what to do with the empty space created by the decision.

On Thursday, the university announced that the spot will remain empty.

Vincent E. Price, president of Duke, said that the idea came from Reverend Luke Powery, the dean of the chapel, who said a year ago that the empty space could represent “a hole that is in the heart of the United States of America, and perhaps in our own human hearts -- that hole that is from the sin of racism and hatred of any kind.”

Price wrote in a statement, "I have concluded that Dean Powery’s suggestion is the right one, particularly when combined with the placement of a plaque in the foyer of Duke Chapel that explains why the space is empty. It will provide a powerful statement about the past, the present and our values."

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