A crowd toppled a bronze Confederate statue in front of a county administrative building in Durham, North Carolina, as throngs of "anti-fascist" groups gathered there days after white nationalist-fueled violence turned fatal in Virginia.

Derrick Lewis, a reporter from the local NBC affiliate WNCN, posted a video to Twitter showing the statue crashing to the ground in front of the old Durham County Court House during what organisers billed as an "emergency protest".

With a strap tied around the neck of the statue, protesters spat, kicked and gestured at the mangled figure after its base was ripped from the granite block.

The statue, which depicts a uniformed and armed Confederate soldier, stood atop an engraved pedestal that read, "In memory of 'the boys who wore the grey". It was erected in 1924 and stood 4.5m tall, according to a memorial database. One side of the granite pedestal depicts a Confederate flag.

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"The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments," Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said via Twitter. A 2015 state law prohibits the removal of any "object of remembrance" on public property that "commemorates an event, a person, or military service that is part of North Carolina's history" without legislative approval.

Groups at the rally included members of the Triangle People's Assembly, Workers World Party, Industrial Workers of the World, Democratic Socialists of America and the anti-fascist movement, the Herald Sun reported.

"Charlottesville and racist monuments across the country are the result of centuries of white supremacy," Alissa Ellis, a member of Workers World Party Durham branch that was a participant in the Charlottesville protests, told the Herald Sun. Her group mobilised members on Facebook to attend the Durham event.

Protesters have targeted the Durham monument before. The statue was spray-painted with a message reading "Black lives matter" in 2015.

At the weekend, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members clashed with protesters at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The fringe groups gathered to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said at a news conference on Sunday that he had a message for "all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth".

During the rally, a car ploughed into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 19 others. James Alex Fields, 20, the alleged driver of the vehicle, has been charged with murder, hit and run, and three counts of malicious wounding. A former teacher described Fields as a Nazi sympathiser.