The Story of Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Monument

arizona confederate flagMany people have stumbled upon the Jefferson Davis monument sitting in the public right of way along U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction and wondered why it was there. While it’s true that the Confederacy claimed southern Arizona as a Confederate Territory in the early part of the Civil War, Union forces from California drove all Confederate troops out of the state in early 1862.

The words carved into the stone marker are:

JEFFERSON DAVIS
HIGHWAY No. 70
ERECTED 1943 BY
UNITED
DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY
ARIZONA

This inscription implies that this stretch of highway was dedicated as a Jefferson Davis memorial highway. Working from that assumption, several Arizona residents recently petitioned the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names (ASBGHN) to remove this designation because they thought it was inappropriate, as Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy, and an unrepentant white supremacist.

The ASBGHN met publicly on September 25, 2017, to consider these proposals, which including one to rename it the Rose Mofford Memorial Highway. During the board’s meeting, however, their staff person made a presentation which showed the situation was much more complicated.

Their research found that the monument was originally dedicated in 1943 along a highway at the Arizona-New Mexico state line near Duncan, Arizona. It was part of a longstanding project by the neo-Confederate group United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to get a cross-country highway dedicated to Jefferson Davis, as a response to the dedication of the Lincoln Highway in 1913. The national president of the UDC attended the ceremony, and the Duncan High School band, accompanied by its majorettes, led the procession. The crowd sang the official Jefferson Davis highway song, and local Mormon church leader J. Vernon McGrath gave the invocation, followed by an address from Arizona Governor Sidney Osborn read by the secretary of state. The UDC’s president then presented the monument to the state. The Arizona Highways Department, the predecessor to today’s Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), built the foundation for the monument and placed the stone marker on it. (This was before the success of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.)

Then in 1961, as part of their participation in Arizona’s Civil War centennial celebrations, the UDC got approval from the Arizona Highways Commission, the predecessor to today’s Arizona State Transportation Board, to have  Arizona’s stretch of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. The Jefferson Davis monument’s original location wasn’t along U.S. 80, so the UDC got it moved it to its present location along U.S. 60, which was part of U.S. 80 back then. The official name of the spot where it sits, however, is the Superstition Mountain Monument, because this is the name that ADOT entered into the official U.S. Board on Geographic Names database in 1984. (There apparently was some reluctance among state officials to officially record a public monument dedicated to Jefferson Davis.)

Subsequently, in 1989 U.S. 80 was decommissioned. The portion of old U.S. 80 from Benson through Douglas and then on to the state’s border with New Mexico was renamed State Route 80. The name Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, however, still appears on some maps for the stretch of S.R. 80 between Benson and Tombstone, although it appears that its official designation as the Jefferson Davis highway died when U.S. 80 became defunct.

But even though there may no longer be a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Arizona, the monument remains along U.S. 60 across from the Peralta Road turnoff. The ownership of the monument isn’t clear. It was donated to the state during its 1943 dedication, but ADOT is reluctant to acknowledge state ownership. The Arizona Division of the UDC was disbanded about 2002, but a local organization called the Dixie Chapter of the UDC exists, although it appears to be solely dedicated to placing wreath on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day, and it’s unclear if it’s affiliated with the national UDC. A 1998 encroachment permit issued by ADOT to the neo-Confederate group Sons of Confederate Veterans, Colonel Sherod Hunter Camp 1525, indicates that they are the monument’s owners.

The ownership of the monument, however, isn’t as important as the public’s opportunity to request that it be relocated to a museum or private property. ADOT’s encroachment permit regulations (A.A.C. R17-3-502) include a list of the things that qualify for a permit. The list includes, “For such uses as the Director specifies.” In other words, anything that ADOT is willing to approve. There are no provisions in ADOT’s regulations, unfortunately, to allow the public to protest the approval of an encroachment permit, or to petition for the removal of an existing monument.

The Arizona State Transportation Board, however, has jurisdiction over all issues related to Arizona’s highways, as per state law in A.R.S. § 28-304.B.3. So it appears that the only way the Jefferson Davis monument can be removed from the public property along U.S 60 is for state residents to persuade the board that it shouldn’t be there, or convince the legislature to pass a bill to have it removed.

Updates

On October 13, 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation issued a letter wherein they stated that their official position is that a Jefferson Davis Highway no longer existed anywhere in Arizona, and that the Jefferson Davis monument along U.S. 60 is privately owned. The letter failed to identify the monument’s owner.

On October 20, 2017, the Arizona State Transportation Board met and ignored requests from the public that they order the Jefferson Davis monument to be removed from the U.S. 60 right-of-way.

On October 23, 2017, and again on November 6, ADOT’s Executive Officer Floyd Roehrich, Jr. responded to inquiries from the public by explaining that the ASTB would not become involved in this issue, and that the responsibility for the monument lies solely with ADOT’s Director John Halikowski. He added that ADOT believes the monument should be relocated to private property because it keeps getting vandalized, and neo-Confederate groups conduct ceremonies there which could create problems because it’s in the highway’s right-of-way. They are trying to identify which local group owns the monument. After the owners are identified, they will initially ask them to move it themselves.  But if they don’t have the money for that, then ADOT will move it.  They hope to have a decision and take action on it by the end of the year.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis monument in the public right-of-way
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis monument in the public right-of-way on U.S. 60. (Jeff Burgess)

Sometime during the weekend of November 18/19, 2017, the monument was vandalized again. This time somebody permanently damaged it by shooting at it. The local police are investigating the crime.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis monument damaged by gunfire.
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis monument damaged by gunfire. (Jeff Burgess)

On June 4, 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report showing that more than 1,700 monuments, place names and other symbols honoring the Confederacy remain in public spaces.

As of October 28, 2018, the Jefferson Davis Highway Monument was still in place along U.S. 60, and the Arizona Department of Transportation was not responding to requests for information about its status. The monument appeared to have sustained additional damage.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis Highway Monument, 10/28/18
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis monument 10/28/18 with new damage. (Jeff Burgess)

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