Construction crews in Winston-Salem spent more than an hour attaching a harness and a cage-like metal frame to protect the statue, then hoisted it from atop its pedestal with a large crane.
The approximately 30-foot-high (nine metres) monument includes a granite statue atop a base and column and was dedicated in 1905. It depicts an anonymous soldier in a Confederate uniform resting his rifle stock against the ground.
A small group of onlookers clapped and cheered as the statue was taken down and placed on a flatbed truck.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines told The Associated Press that the statue will eventually be moved to the landmark Salem Cemetery. Before that, it will be put into temporary storage while a site at the cemetery is prepared.
“We realise that there are very strong feelings on both sides of this issue, so what we’ve tried to do is devise a solution that recognises both sides,” he said, describing its eventual home in the cemetery as “a very dignified and appropriate location for the statue”.
The Winston-Salem Confederate Statue is off it's pedestal! pic.twitter.com/dG3RQjQ3sl
— This Maneuver Is Not In The Handbook (@OurMisterBrooks) March 12, 2019
North Carolina has been at the forefront of the debate over Confederate monuments. It is one of three southern states with the most Confederate statues, according to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) watchdog group.
Although a 2015 North Carolina law all but prohibits the permanent removal of Confederate statues from public land, Winston-Salem had more leeway than most North Carolina cities because the old courthouse property had passed into private hands.
Some statues had been relocated by North Carolina cities in the years before the 2015 law went into effect, but since then, local governments have been all but blocked from doing so under the law that allows relocation only in very narrow circumstances.
Two North Carolina Confederate statues have been torn down by protesters.
Promoting white supremacy
Confederate statues have been subject of debate in recent years.
Critics argue many Confederate statues were built decades after the Civil War to promote white supremacy. Supporters counter that the monuments are simply memorials to ancestors who fought and died protecting their homes.
BREAKING: The #confederate solider portion of the statue has been removed. It will go to a private storage facility before being placed in Salem Cemetery. Mayor Joines says it’ll take a few months for it to be ready to be placed in the Cemetery. @WXII pic.twitter.com/KRhdhV058J
— WXII Meredith Stutz (@WXIIMeredith) March 12, 2019
Protests against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee in Charlottesville turned deadly on August 12, 2017, when white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Two years earlier, in June 2015, white nationalist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African American worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina. After the shooting, photos emerged of Roof posing with a Confederate flag.
Both incidents reinvigorated the national debate about Confederate monuments and symbols.
The Winston-Salem statue has been vandalised twice since late 2017 and critics and supporters gathered for a tense rally around the statue in January.
According to the SPLC, at least 110 Confederate memorials have been removed since Roof went on his shooting rampage in 2015.
As of June 2018, the watchdog noted, 1,728 Confederate memorials remain intact.