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

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 Highway monument 10/28/18 with new damage. (Jeff Burgess)

On January 22, 2019, the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names designated the stretch of U.S. 60 between Apache Junction and Globe to be the Governor Rose Mofford Memorial Highway.

On February 22, 2019, the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, removed its Jefferson Davis Highway monument from the side of a downtown road because it was “an ongoing threat to public safety.”

As of May 21, 2019, the Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway Monument was still along U.S. 60. It had suffered additional damage, apparently from a chisel or hammer.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis Highway monument
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway monument 05/21/19 with additional damage. (Jeff Burgess)

Jefferson Davis Doesn’t Deserve Any Monuments

Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis (Wikipedia)

Communities across the U.S have recently started removing public monuments dedicated to the Confederacy because white supremacists have adopted them as favored symbols. There’s also a growing recognition that most Confederate monuments weren’t erected to honor the sacrifices made by Confederate soldiers, but were built as part of a longstanding historical revisionist campaign, called the Lost Cause, to rewrite history in order to portray the  Confederacy in a favorable manner.

There are a lot of different types of Confederate monuments scattered across the country. Those located on Civil War battlefields or graveyards, for example, are mostly historical, and they should not be removed. But there are many that glorify the Confederacy, like the monuments dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and they don’t deserve to be maintained.

Davis, like many other Confederate politicians and soldiers, served his country honorably before the Civil War. He was born in 1808 in Kentucky and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828 and then was stationed on the frontier at Fort Crawford, in modern day Wisconsin. He resigned from the army in 1835 and eventually settled down to run a plantation in Mississippi with many slaves.

He got involved in local Democratic Party politics and was was elected by Mississippi voters to the U.S House of Representatives in 1845. But he resigned from Congress when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846. He raised and commanded a volunteer regiment from Mississippi and led his unit in the important American victories at the 1846 Battle of Monterrey and the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista, where he was wounded in the foot.

The governor of Mississippi recognized Davis’s war service by appointing him to the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat in late 1847 and he subsequently won elections to stay in that office. But he resigned the Senate in 1851 to run for the governorship of Mississippi as a candidate opposed to the Compromise of 1850,  which he thought was unfair to the slave states. He lost by a narrow margin but remained active in politics and in 1853 newly elected President Franklin Pierce, a fellow Democrat, appointed Davis to be the U.S. Secretary of War.

In 1853, during his tenure as the secretary of war, Davis helped persuade Pierce to make the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico to acquire the land needed to build a southern transcontinental railroad. (Something many Southerners wanted.) He also helped to modernize the U.S. Army.

After Pierce lost his presidential reelection campaign, Mississippi voters once again elected Davis to the U.S. Senate. When he assumed office in 1857 the issue of slavery was tearing the country apart, largely as a result of the Supreme Court’s controversial Dred Scott decision.

Many Southern leaders, including Davis, were vocal proponent of states’ rights. They believed that each state was sovereign, and that the national government derived all of its authority from the states, so every state had the right to unilaterally secede from the U.S. Their affection for states’ rights was generated by a desire to preserve the economic institution slavery, so they were alarmed when  Republican anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected U.S. president in the fall of 1860. Lincoln didn’t propose to abolish slavery in the South, only to prohibit it from being allowed in any new states. But Southern leaders believed that slavery had to expand in order to survive, so why should they until they were injured before they seceded?

Davis cautioned Southerners against seceding over the issue of slavery because he didn’t think the North would allow it, and he doubted the South could defeat the North in a war. But then his home state of Mississippi seceded in January 0f 1861. The Mississippi state government issued A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union which stated:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Note: Mississippi didn’t officially ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, until February 7, 2013.

After Mississippi seceded, Davis resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate and returned to Mississippi, ending his loyalty to the United States. He offered his services to the state’s governor, but his political opinions were so well known across the South that at the Confederacy’s constitutional convention in Montgomery, Alabama, in February, 1861, he was enthusiastically elected president of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis coin, 1861
Popular coin in 1861

The U.S. Civil War started when Confederate forces, with Davis’s approval, started bombarding the Union garrison of Fort Sumter  in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12 because they refused to surrender their fort. Subsequently, on April 15 U.S. President Abraham issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 troops to put down the insurrection.

Davis responded on April 29 with a speech to the Confederate congress wherein he said the Confederacy was ready for a fight. The long speech included a defense of slavery:

In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people;

Davis presumed that European countries would take the Confederacy’s side in the war because they’d want to protect their access to the South’s cotton, and he sent emissaries to Europe to solicit their help. But despite the success of the Union’s naval blockade at stopping most Southern cotton exports, no foreign government officially recognized the Confederacy.

In July of 1862 Congress passed the Militia Act, which allowed African-Americans to join the Union army – and thousands did. Then that September President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all of the slaves in the Confederate states effective January 1, 1863. Davis responded by issuing a proclamation of his own in December. It declared that the Union officers commanding black troops were to be considered criminals and executed if captured. As for the black troops, Davis ordered that, “all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.” In other words, put into slavery or executed.

The Confederacy’s subsequent refusal to recognize captured black Union troops as legitimate prisoners of war prompted Lincoln to suspend all military prisoner exchanges with the South in the summer of 1863. This undoubtedly contributed to the number of deaths among Union soldiers at the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

In January 1864 Davis received a petition signed by several Confederate army officers that called for a law allowing the emancipation and enlistment of slaves into the Confederate army to help solve their serious manpower shortage. Davis declined to show it to the Confederate Congress and told the officers to drop the matter.

But Davis grew desperate as the Civil War progressed it and became obvious that the South was facing defeat. In March of 1865 he supported the passage of legislation that allowed the Confederate Army to enlist free black men and slaves that were granted their freedom by their masters so they could go fight for the Confederacy. Almost nothing came from it, despite Southern newspaper propaganda that thousands of blacks were enlisting.

On April 3, 1865, Davis and his government were forced to flee the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, to avoid capture by Union troops. Subsequently, on April 9 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 man Army of Northern Virginia, without Davis’s approval, after they had been surrounded by Union forces at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Then on April 14 Confederate terrorist John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died from his wound the following day. Davis received a telegram informing him of Lincoln’s assassination on April 19 while he was on the run in North Carolina. He is reported to have feared the vengeance of the North when he said, “I fear it will be disastrous for our people.”

On April 20 Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to Davis explaining why he’d been forced to surrender his army. Lee also recommended against resorting to a guerrilla war to continue the fight against the Union, as the South no longer had any chance of achieving independence. “To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace,” Lee wrote.

Jefferson Davis monument - New Orleans
Jefferson Davis monument, New Orleans, LA (Natalie Burgess)

Davis, however, refused to give up. The Confederacy’s largest remaining army, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, was encamped nearby. Johnston had realized further resistance was futile after learning of Lee’s surrender. He knew the Union troops that had defeated Lee would now be turned against him, and he was already being pursued by a large Union army under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Johnston met with Sherman at Bennet Place, near Durham, North Carolina on April 17. The following day they signed surrender papers that included some political concessions that Davis had insisted upon. But on April 24 U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant arrived and informed Sherman the agreement had been rejected in Washington, D.C., because the political concessions were unacceptable. Upon learning of the rejection, Davis instructed Johnston to disband his infantry and escape with his mounted troops to continue the fight. But Johnston ignored him and on April 26 he agreed to a revised surrender agreement that was solely focused on military issues, ending the war for more than 89,000 Confederate soldiers. This led to the eventual surrender of the remaining Confederates armies across the South. Davis considered Johnston’s surrender to be a traitorous act and kicked him out of what little remained of the Confederate army on May 2.

Davis was till on the run when Union soldiers finally captured him in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10. He was imprisoned and indicted for treason. But he still didn’t give up. He welcomed his impending trial because he thought it would allow him to prove in court that states had the right to secede. But his trial kept getting delayed so Davis was bailed out of prison after two years by prominent Northerners who believed that he still deserved a speedy. After he was released on bail, Democratic politicians urged him to run for U.S. president in the upcoming election of 1868.  They suggested his campaign should call “for a restoration of the Union upon a white basis.” Davis, however, remained under indictment until Lincoln’s successor, Southern Democratic President Andrew Johnson, pardoned all former Confederates on Christmas Day 1868.

Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the 1868 election, and after he assumed the office of U.S. president in 1869 he made Reconstruction in the South a government priority. Davis lived in the South during the  Reconstruction Era, which lasted until 1877. He didn’t publicly comment on the situation, but he privately complained that Republican control of the former Confederate states was unjust, especially because of the Union Army’s enforcement of civil rights for blacks, as he believed that white people were superior. He ended his public silence in 1881 with the publication of his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. He said he wrote it for the purpose of “setting the righteous motives of the South before the world.” It was a defense of the old Southern way of life, and it made him very popular at Lost Cause events across the South. He made public statements in support of national unity, but he never admitted that anything he believed in was wrong, and he never expressed any remorse for his part in starting the Civil War. He died unrepentant in 1889.

Confederate Monuments Are a Result of Historical Revisionism

robert e. lee
Robert E. Lee (Wikipedia)

After white supremacist Dylan Roof executed nine black people during a Bible study session at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, it was discovered that he had a website with links to Confederate sites and a photo of him proudly holding a Confederate battle flag.

South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley responded by calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from a flagpole on the state’s Capitol grounds. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” she said. “The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”

The flag had been erected in 1961, officially as part of the state’s Civil War centennial celebration, but really as a symbol of Southern opposition to the growing African-American civil rights movement.

On June 23 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump weighed in on the topic by saying that the flag should be taken down and put in a museum. This was before Steve Bannon took charge of Trump’s election campaign.

On July 9 Gov. Haley signed legislation authorizing the removal of the flag and the following day a large crowd applauded as it was taken down.

Governor Haley’s success in getting the Confederate flag removed encouraged others across the U.S. to call for the removal of Confederate memorials in their communities, including people in states as far away as Arizona.

Lee Circle, New Orleans, 2017
Tivoli Circle, New Orleans, in 2019, after the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in 2017. (Jeff Burgess)

On December 17, for example, the New Orleans Orleans City Council voted to remove four Confederate statues from city property, including the Robert E. Lee statue erected in 1884 at Tivoli Circle. The removals were put on hold pending the outcome of opposition lawsuits. But on March 6, 2017, the U. S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuits and the statues were removed.

The growth and success of these local initiatives angered right-wing extremists. Earlier this year they responded to a decision by the Charlottesville, Virginia, city council to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a municipal park, by organizing a Unite the Right protest rally to be held in Charlottesville August 11-12, 2017.

The U.S. Department of Homeland (DHS) security notified local law enforcement officials on August 9 that the protest would likely result in violence. They warned that white supremacists and anti-fascist “Antifa” extremists had clashed twice before in Charlottesville over the removal of Lee’s statue, at a white nationalist rally on May 13 and a Ku Klux Klan gathering July 7.

On the night of the 11th a procession of far-right protesters that included white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and right-wing militia members marched through the city’s University of Virginia campus. They chanted Nazi and white supremacist slogans while carrying lit tiki torches and briefly scuffled with counterprotestors before the state police broke it up.

Things got much worse at the next day’s protest. There were more protestors on both sides and the far-right protestors included people carrying Confederate flags and wearing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” caps and giving the Nazi salute while shouting, “Hail Trump!” The police failed to prevent violence from breaking out, a local state of emergency was declared, and the situation became deadly when a far-right protestor named James Alex Fields Jr. purposely drove a car into a crowd of counterprotestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others. (A police helicopter also crashed on route to scene, killing two state troopers.)

President Trump didn’t say anything publicly about the events in Charlottesville on the first night of the right-wing protest. But he responded to the second day’s violence by telling the country that he condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” His speech was widely criticized for failing to explicitly condemn white supremacists and Nazis, and his repetition of the phrase “many sides” created an inference that he put them on the same moral plane as the counterprotestors.

He responded to the criticism by defending himself in a speech on August 15 wherein he said that he’d already condemned neo-Nazis, but not all of the right-wing protestors in Charlotte had been neo-Nazis or white nationalists. “You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said.

Trump also seemed to defend the right-wing protestors by sympathizing with their reason for organizing the march – the city’s plan to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee.

“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” he said. “So, this week, it’s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

At a rally he held in Phoenix, Arizona, a week later he repeated this excuse, telling the crowd that, “They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history.”

A subsequent national poll found that 54 percent of Americans agreed with Trump that Confederate monuments “should remain in all public spaces,” while 27 percent said they should be removed, and another 19 percent said they didn’t know. (Unfortunately, the poll failed to identify whether or not the respondents lived in former Confederate states.)

A closer look, however, shows that Trump’s argument isn’t based upon facts. For example, after the South was defeated in the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was against monuments to the Confederacy. When he was invited to the Gettysburg battlefield in 1869 to help place granite monuments to mark the positions that had been held by Confederate units during the battle, he declined. “It is wisest, morever,” he wrote, “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

A comprehensive report, issued in 2016 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) shows that many Confederate monuments aren’t really historical markers, but attempts by neo-Confederate groups, like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy, to help promote the Lost Cause, a longstanding historical revisionism campaign designed to portray the Confederacy as a benign entity. Proponents of this myth claim that the old South had a superior culture and the Civil War wasn’t about slavery but about states’ rights. In other words, there was a moral equivalency to the causes for which the North and the South fought the war. The Confederacy just happened to have lost the war. Civil War historian Edward H. Bonekemper III has called the Lost Cause, “the most successful propaganda campaign in American history.”

I presume that some of the people who want Confederate monuments maintained simply feel that we shouldn’t be tampering with history. But in 1967 the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) changed the word nigger to Negro in 143 geographical place names. And after World War Two, the new German government outlawed the public use of Nazi symbols. Were those changes wrong?

I’m not saying that all Confederate monuments should be removed, just the ones that primarily serve to glorify the memory of the Confederacy. General Lee, in fact, advocated for just one type of Confederate memorial. “All I think that can now be done, is to aid our noble & generous women in their efforts to protect the graves & mark the last resting places of those who have fallen,” he wrote in 1866.

The graves of Confederate soldiers should, of course, be maintained. So should historically oriented Confederate monuments at Civil War battlefields. But even these concessions may have been frowned upon by most of the Union soldiers that survived the Civil War. In 1869 former Union soldier William T. Collins wrote an eloquent policy statement for distribution by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the largest Union Army veterans organization. His purpose was to explain why the GAR was opposed to allowing the graves of Confederate soldiers in public military cemeteries to be decorated on Memorial Day.

We strew flowers therefore on the graves of our comrades, and prevent their being strewn in the national cemeteries at the same time, on graves of such rebel dead as may be buried therein, not because we cherish any feelings of hate, or desire to triumph over individual foes, but because we seek to mark in this distinction and manner the feelings with which the nation regards freedom and slavery, loyalty and treason, Republican principles and those of a slave-holding oligarchy.

We are ready to forgive – we hold no malice – but we will never consent by public national tribute to obliterate the wide gulf that lies between the objects, motives, and principles for which we fought and our comrades died, and those for which the rebel armies banded together, and for which their dead now lie in numerous graves.

They were brave, and we know it – none can better appreciate that fact than those who fought against them. But mere courage never ennobled treason. It cannot turn slavery into liberty, nor make despotic intentions desirable and to-be-applauded virtues. Our refusal to decorate rebel graves marks not hatred of their occupants or friends, but our undying hostility to the ideas for which they fought and died. To do less than keep this distinction fresh in the national mind is to undermine the republic itself. – William T. Collins

I don’t propose that we should resume the practice of preventing the graves of Confederate soldiers from being decorated. But reconciliation must be based upon honesty, not the falsehoods embodied in the Lost Cause. Former Confederate Col. John S. Mosby felt this way when he wrote a letter in 1907 in which he complained that proponents of the Lost Cause mythology were distorting history by downplaying slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

What other country on Earth, I ask you, would allow memorials on public properties to a traitorous rebellion that cost the lives of more than 360,00 loyal soldiers, and wounded at least 280,000 more? A dare say none. The hundreds of Confederate monuments that exist today, especially those dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, are a testament to the effectiveness of the propaganda that promoted the historical revisionism of the Lost Cause.

The removal of monuments that glorify the Confederacy doesn’t create a slippery slope that endangers all of American history. It’s easy to tell the difference between a monument to the Confederacy from one that isn’t. Nor will their removal solve the daily problems of Americans, including the black people who still suffer in poverty due, in part, to the legacy of slavery. But sometimes there are more important things than money, and cultural symbols matter. The truth is that the removal of Confederate monuments from public places isn’t an attempt to “take away” our history, it’s a way to begin to dismantle the historical revisionism that led to their creation. It’s a way to restore the truth – something that Donald Trump often ignores when it’s convenient for him.

Updates

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.

On October 2, 2018, U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen announced at a news conference in Charlottesville, VA, that four members of a militant white supremacist group from California had been arrested on charges they traveled to Charlottesville last year to incite a riot and attack counter-protesters.

On April 26, 2019, Pres. Trump defended the comments he made about the violence in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017 wherein he claimed there were, “some very fine people on both sides.” He said he had “answered perfectly” about the events, and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “a great general.”

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