Many Confederate Monuments Aren’t Historical, But Political

arizona confederate flagOpponents of the removal of Confederate monuments like to ask where it will stop, and claim the removal of any Confederate monument from public property is a threat to all of America’s historical monuments. But there’s a significant difference between Confederate monuments and flags that are used to commemorate history and those used to honor the Confederate cause.

Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway Monument

The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway is a good example of something that’s not a historical monument, but a political statement in support of the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis wasn’t a Confederate soldier, but the president of the Confederacy – the political leader of a violent rebellion. After the South lost the Civil War he didn’t give up and was a proponent of the myth of the Lost Cause, a continuing propaganda campaign that claims the old South had a superior culture and the Civil War wasn’t about slavery but about states’ rights. In other words, the causes for which the North and South fought were morally equivalent – the South just happened to have lost the war. Furthermore, Davis was an unrepentant white supremacist until he died in 1889.

The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was a project promoted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) beginning in 1913 in response to the dedication of a Lincoln Highway earlier that year. The UDC was organized in 1894 to ostensibly honor the memory of Confederate veterans. They have succeeded in creating numerous Confederate monuments and memorials across the country, including a controversial Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The UDC succeeded in getting individual stretches of U.S. highway dedicated to Davis, and after the federal government began regulating the nation’s highways in 1926, the they asked that a single route be officially designated across the entire country. But their request was denied because highway officials found that their Jefferson Davis Highway was in reality just a “a collection of routes.” But the UDC didn’t give up and for many years continued to get various stretches of highway across the country dedicated to Davis on a piecemeal basis.

Jefferson Davis Highway monument, AZ
(Jeff Burgess)

In 1943, for example, the UDC succeeded in getting a Jefferson Davis Highway monument erected along a highway near Duncan, Arizona, near the state line with New Mexico. Then in 1961, as part of their participation in Arizona’s Civil War Centennial commemoration, they succeeded in getting the state’s portion of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. The monument, however, wasn’t located along U.S. 80, so the UDC got it moved it to its present location along U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction, which was part of U.S. 80 back then.

The Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops

The Jefferson Davis Highway monument wasn’t the only Confederate monument the UDC erected in Arizona. On January 8, 1961, Arizona’s Governor Paul Fannin announced the official opening of the state’s Civil War Centennial commemoration, including a plan to erect a Civil War memorial at the state capital.  Fannin was a conservative Republican and an ardent supporter of Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater, who opposed Federal enforcement of school desegregation in the South. During his 1960 election campaign Fannin called civil rights protest marches and sit-ins “un- American.” So it isn’t surprising that the UDC was able to hijack Arizona’s Civil War Centennial commemoration. In fact, they took advantage of the Civil War centennial to build several new memorials to the Confederacy across the nation.

On the day that Gov. Fannin made his announcement, for example, the UDC succeeded in having the Confederate flag fly over the state capitol building. Later that year, as previously mentioned, the UDC got Arizona’s stretch of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.

Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops, Phoenix, AZ
Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops (Jeff Burgess)

But their biggest achievement in Arizona was having the new Civil War monument at the state capital dedicated solely to Confederate troops. Its construction began in front of the State Senate building in 1961, but it wasn’t dedicated until February 14, 1962, as part of the state’s 50th birthday celebration. It wasn’t enough, however, for the UDC to dedicate a Confederate memorial on the anniversary of Arizona becoming a U.S. state. They also used the occasion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Confederacy’s official declaration of the short-lived Confederate Territory of Arizona on the same day in 1862. Arizona’s Secretary of State Wesley Bolin spoke at the dedication ceremony. After Bolin died in 1978 the legislature created Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza and most of the monuments at the capital, including the Confederate troop memorial, were relocated there.

The plaque fastened to the Confederate memorial reads:

MEMORIAL TO
ARIZONA CONFEDERATE TROOPS
1861-1865

This seems innocuous enough for it to be considered a historical monument, and not a political statement, as there were men from territorial Arizona that enlisted and fought in the Confederate army. But there’s also an inscription on the base in front of the memorial that reads, “A NATION THAT FORGETS ITS PAST HAS NO FUTURE.”

A speech given by Grace McLean Moses at the UDC’s 1962 national convention sheds some light on this phrase’s purpose and meaning. She described the Confederate soldier as being “touched by the divine hand of Providence” and “a knight in shining armor.” After the Civil War he “sought to pass on to future generations the ideals, manners and code of conduct for which the South has been justly renowned.” Then she warned that our nation stood at a crossroads of history and “we find America lacking in those qualities which made her great and without which she cannot hope to endure.”

Those qualities, she explained, were the ones that glorified the Confederate soldier: “Let us stand fast, in a world of change and unrest, for those high ideals for which they gave so much. Only then shall we truly honor them. It has been written that ‘a nation that forgets its past can have no future.’ It is our labor of love to make the memory of the Confederate soldier eternal.”

The speech was a thinly veiled criticism of the growing African-American civil rights movement and the Federal government’s enforcement of desegregation in the South. The fact that her speech included the same phrase that’s inscribed on the Arizona Confederate monument shows that it was part of a nationwide political strategy. The UDC, in fact, intentionally exploited the opposition to the civil rights movement in order to increase its membership during this time.

The UDC is not just a bunch of “nice old ladies.” Since their beginning they have been a political organization that has promoted the myth of the Lost Cause in a myriad of ways. They also publicly supported the Ku Klux Klan as late as 1936, claiming the KKK saved the South after the Civil War. And, as discussed above, they opposed racial desegregation in the South in the 1950s and 60s. Their activities during the annual meeting of Arizona’s UDC chapters in Phoenix in 1939 provide an example of what they’ve been about. The entertainment portion of their meeting included the singing of the song “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” The song’s lyrics are:

Someone had to pick the cotton,
Someone had to pick the corn,
Someone had to slave and be able to sing,
That’s why darkies were born.

The Efforts to Remove Arizona’s Confederate Monuments

The execution-style murders of nine black people by white supremacist Dylann Roof at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, prompted Arizona State Representative Reginald Bolding Jr., D-Laveen, to call for the removal of the Jefferson Davis Highway monument from public property. Bolding was the only black member of Arizona’s legislature.

“In light of everything that has happened…we can’t go through our daily lives honoring symbols of hate, symbols of separation and symbols of segregation right now,” said Bolding, surrounded by like-minded activists at the state capital in Phoenix.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey subsequently said that he would ask for a governmental review of the marker because he’d rather see the state’s highways named after Arizonans. But the Arizona Republic newspaper reported on May 28, 2017, that Gov. Ducey never asked the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names (ASBGHN) to consider removing the monument or renaming the highway.

In August of 2017 three proposals to remove the name Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway from the stretch of U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction were received from the public by the ASBGHN. The board held a public meeting to discuss these proposals on September 25, 2017. The board’s staff presented research which indicated there probably wasn’t a Jefferson Davis highway anywhere in Arizona anymore, and that the status of the Jefferson Davis monument on U.S. 60 is the responsibility of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), as it’s located in the public right-of-way.

On October 2 the group Progress Now Arizona delivered a petition with more than 700 signatures to Gov. Ducey’s office calling on him to use his powers to cut through the red tape and have the roadside monument removed and the highway renamed.

On October 13 the Arizona Department of Transportation issued a letter wherein they stated that their official position is that a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway no longer existed anywhere in Arizona, and that the Jefferson Davis monument along U.S. 60 is privately owned. Subsequently, on October 23 an ADOT spokesperson said that the agency’s director believes the monument should be relocated to private property because it keeps getting vandalized, and Confederate groups, like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, periodically gather around it to conduct ceremonies that could create safety problems because the monument’s in the public right-of-way. Nothing has happened since then, except that the monument was vandalized again in November.

As for the Confederate soldier memorial at the state capital, on June 5, 2017, several of Arizona’s black leaders called for the removal of all of Arizona’s Confederate monuments. A spokesman for Gov. Ducey responded that their complaint about the Confederate soldier memorial on the Wesley Bolin plaza was misdirected at him because the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission is in charge of the plaza’s monuments, even though the governor appoints two of the commission’s members.

In August the memorial was vandalized twice with paint. “I think it’s absolutely irresponsible and non-productive. It does absolutely nothing to promote the cause of removing symbols of hate in the state when individuals take matters into their hands and vandalize state property,” said state Rep. Reginald Bolding in response to the vandalism.

At the February 14, 2018, meeting of the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission State Representative Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, a non-voting advisory member of the commission, asked the commission’s chair, Kevin DeMenna, to consider putting a discussion about the mall’s Confederate soldier memorial on a future commission agenda. She explained that many Arizona voters had told her they don’t like the memorial because they believe it honors the Confederate cause, and that a public discussion about it could be useful. Chairman DeMenna was noncommittal and soon gaveled the meeting to an abrupt close.

Which Confederate Monuments Should Be Removed?

The real problem with removing Confederate monuments from public property is deciding which ones should remain because they are truly historical, and which ones should be removed because they glorify the Confederate cause. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) has tried to address this issue. The SUVCW is the official successor to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Its members are descendants of Union soldiers that served during the Civil War – white and black.

SUVCW leaders issued the organization’s official policy on Confederate flags and monuments in 2017. They condemned their use by hate groups, but called for the protection of Confederate “veterans” monuments, and supported the flying of Confederate flags at Civil War battlefields and in museums. They also told their members they are free to express whatever personal opinions they might have about the issue, but they can’t to do it in the name of the SUVCW, and all inquiries from the press should be forwarded to their national office for an official response. It’s obvious that the SUVCW is reluctant to endorse all types of Confederate monuments, or flying the Confederate flag in any situation.

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a public park, for example, might be a historical monument if it’s located on a battlefield where Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fought, or in the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.  But if it’s located elsewhere, it could be considered a political statement. The Memorial to Arizona’s Confederate Troops also falls into this gray zone. At first glance, it appears to be a simple monument to the Confederate troops from Arizona, but its history and the inscription in front of it indicate that it’s a political statement.

Americans have the right to make these sorts of decisions about the public monuments displayed in their communities. The complaint that removing a Confederate monument from public property amounts to erasing history is nonsense. In fact, when the monument glorifies the Confederacy, its removal actually serves to reinstate history by refuting the myth of the Lost Cause.

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.

Donald Trump’s 2017 Phoenix Rally

dumb trump
(Jeff Burgess)

The biggest difference between President Donald Trump’s August 22 rally at the Phoenix Convention Center and the campaign rally he held there in the summer of 2015 was the number of anti-Trump protestors outside of the building.

I am proud to say that I participated in both protests, but was disappointed by the small size of the one at Trump’s 2015 rally. Looking back, I attribute it to a mistaken presumption that Trump had no realistic chance to win the 2016 presidential election. Also, the outdoor temperature that day was 106°F. The outdoor temperature at the recent rally was the same, but this time it didn’t stop thousands of people from showing up to voice their displeasure.

But even though we were there to protest, our overall spirit was joyful because of the camaraderie we felt from being with so many other Americans who also believed that Donald Trump’s presidency has been an unprecedented disaster for our country. There was almost a fun, carnival atmosphere, with lots of clever signs, inspiring music, and potent chants, like “Walk of Shame” directed at the people filing into the convention center to hear Trump speak. I especially enjoyed the guy who wandered through the crowd with a small amplifier slung over his shoulder broadcasting a recording of Trump saying, “Grab them by the pussy,” in an infinite loop. The giant inflatable figures of Trump and Joe Arpaio, wearing a KKK outfit and prison garb respectively, were pretty good too – and had obviously taken a lot of work to make.

trump phoenix protest 2017
Trump protest signs, Phoenix Convention Center, August 22, 2017 (Jeff Burgess)

The diversity among the anti-Trump protestors was a stark contrast to his supporters on the other side of the police line across the street. They were almost entirely white people – more than 99%. But the Trump protestors seemed to encompass almost every demographic in the U.S. The were, of course, many Latinos because of Trump’s support for Arpaio. I found the Native American protestors especially effective because they reminded everyone they have been subjected to oppression longer than any other group in America.

The news media made a lot out of the fact that a handful of troublemakers provoked the Phoenix police into unleashing tear gas and flash bang grenades on all of the remaining protestors near the end of the event. Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams defended her officers actions, but many of the people who were still protesting peacefully said the police overreacted and gave them no warnings.

I didn’t see what happened. I was in a nearby restaurant having an ice-cold beer by then because I couldn’t take the heat any longer – having been outside for more than an hour and a half. (It is difficult to describe how quickly the Sonoran Desert’s summer heat can debilitate you.) But I can say that 100% of the protestors I encountered were peaceful, and that’s the most important thing to remember about the protest.

Among the tiny minority in the crowd that weren’t joyful were four young white people, one with a very long hillbilly beard, that trailed each other through the crowd dressed in faux combat clothes, wearing armored vests and carrying AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles across their chests. I wondered why they were carrying what I presumed to be loaded weapons, and I overheard other people wondering the same thing. The four of them had completely neutral expressions on their faces and didn’t look directly at anybody as they passed through. Who did they think they might have to shoot?

There was also a very small group of people dressed from head to foot in black, wearing helmets, dark sunglasses, and bandanas to hide their faces. They were standing still, at attention, in an ominously tight formation, and the rest of us looked upon them with suspicion and gave them space. I presumed they were an Antifa group. But if they were, I think it was odd that their black and red flag looked like the flag used by Ukrainian fascists.

Almost all of the Trump supporters across the street were in a line to enter the convention center. Some of them yelled back at us and gave us the finger as they slowly passed by on their way into the building, but most of them just watched us, seemingly surprised at the size and enthusiasm of our protest.

donald trump supporters
Trump supporters, Phoenix Convention Center, August 22, 2017 (Jeff Burgess)

But there was also a very small group of pro-Trump demonstrators gathered on the corner. They had some hateful signs and one fellow had a very loud electrically amplified megaphone. He used it to almost unceasingly shout insults at anti-Trump protestors. Some of the things he said were so awfully racist that people, including myself, gasped and asked the person next to them if he’d really just said what it sounded like he’d said. I noticed that one of the black policemen keeping the different protestors separated dropped his head and shook it in response to one of the guy’s most racist rants. I wondered what, exactly, that policeman was thinking.

I think that the police behaved well and performed their duties objectively – at least during the time I was at the protest. I had several polite and friendly discussions with officers on the edges of the crowd, where they seemed to like to stay. I’m sure, however, that there will be some investigations into their conduct at the end of the event. I hope there will be an independent one that answers all of the questions about what happened.

In the meantime, my only criticism of the police is that I think they should have tried to do more than simply keep the two sides apart. I know they had a difficult job, but why, for example, did they seem to be ignoring the people dressed like wannabe militia walking through the crowd with AR-15s? Why didn’t they seem concerned about the Antifa squad that appeared poised for mayhem? And why didn’t one of them go over and talk to the guy who was literally trying to incite a race riot by screaming horrible things through his megaphone?

I realize there were First Amendment and Second Amendment issues involved, but I can’t help but wonder if the protest would have stayed peaceful if the police had been a bit more proactive. I’m not saying they should have made any preemptive arrests or told anybody to shut up. But it seems to me they could have at least tried to initiate some communication with all of the protestors to try and reduce the tension.

Updates

In November 2017 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona sued the Phoenix Police Department in order to collect public records regarding its use of force on protesters during President Trump’s August rally.

On November 30, 2017, the Phoenix police released several videos of the police taking action against protestors at the end of rally.

On January 29, 2018, the Phoenix Police Department released a report wherein they admitted they failed to provide adequate warning to peaceful protesters before they abruptly released “pepper balls,” which released a gaseous irritant, deployed pepper spray, tear gas, and fired foam batons into the crowd.

Domestic Right-wing Terrorists A Growing Threat in the U.S.

donald trump
Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore)

The U.S. media continues to describe the recent attack by a husband and wife team of Islamic extremists in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and injured 24 as the worst terrorist attack in the country since the 9/11 attacks. It’s a true statement, but it’s also a bit misleading because it fails to acknowledge that a lot of Americans have also been killed and injured by right-wing terrorists.

The infamous September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorist attacks killed 2,977 people and wounded more than 6,000. There’s never been a single right-wing terrorist attack in the U.S. that killed that many people, but the numbers are alarming if you add them up. According to the Tuskegee Institute, for example, from 1882-1968 there were 3,446 black people lynched in the U.S.

But lynching wasn’t the only form of terror used against black people after the Civil War. The Red Shirts were white supremacist paramilitary groups that began working in the South in 1875 to suppress black voters through intimidation. They were active and successful until 1900.

And lynching wasn’t the only type of violence used against blacks by white supremacists. In November of 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, a mob of 2,000 Democratic Party white men overthrew the city’s popularly elected government and installed their own people. Republican President William McKinley refused to intervene because he wanted Southern support for Senate approval of his peace treaty with Spain following the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War. Property belonging to the city’s black people was destroyed and 15-60 people were killed. At least 2,100 blacks abandoned their businesses and properties and left the city permanently after the riot, changing the city’s population from mostly black to mostly white.

In 1919 in Elaine, Arkansas, a white mob went on a rampage that killed an estimated 100-237 black people. But the worst incident of racial violence occurred in 1921 when a white mob started a race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that killed about 300 blacks, injured 800 more, destroyed more than 35 blocks of a black neighborhood, and left about 10,000 blacks homeless.

Tulsa race riot 1921
Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921 (Unknown)

Well into the 1960s there were sundown towns posting signs along roads at their town limits ominously warning blacks that they had to leave town by sundown.

More recently, on April 19, 1995, anti-government right-wing terrorists detonated a massive bomb outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, including 19 children, and wounded more than 680. On August 5, 2012 a white-supremacist killed 6 people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

In 2009 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a report that warned of the growing dangers of right-wing extremism. But it was ignored and severely criticized by conservative politicians and commentators

Last April dozens of armed right-wing militia members flocked to Clark County, Nevada, in response to appeals for help from 67-year-old cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in his dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In order to avoid violence the BLM was forced to cancel the roundup of Bundy’s cattle, which were illegally grazing on public land. A subsequent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) showed that Bundy’s success in getting the government to back down had energized violent right-wing extremists.

A short time after Bundy’s standoff began a white-supremacist killed 3 people at some Kansas City Jewish institutions. He shouted “Heil Hitler!” when he was arrested. In June a husband and wife team of right-wing terrorists killed 3 people, including two police officers, in Las Vegas. They left a swastika and a note that said, “The revolution is beginning.” Then in September an anti-government extremist shot two Pennsylvania state troopers, killing one and wounding the other. It took a massive, six-week-long manhunt to capture him.

This year a right-wing terrorist shot 10 black people, killing 9 and wounding 1, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17 in Charleston, South Carolina. He said he did it to incite a race war. And on November 27 an anti-abortion right-wing terrorist killed 3 people and wounded 9 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

There are plenty of other examples of right-wing terrorist attacks in the U.S., but these are enough to prove they are far more frequent than violent attacks by Islamic extremists. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the American mass media or the Republican presidential candidates.

Front-runner Donald Trump, for example, suggested that the San Bernardino attackers were obviously radical Islamic terrorists because of their last names, and falsely claimed that one of their neighbors “knew what was going on” but didn’t report anything because he didn’t want to racially profile them. Unfortunately, this type of political fearmongering has been the focus of the mass media coverage of the San Bernardino attack and has further obscured the reality that domestic right-wing terrorism is a bigger danger.

Update

On August 12, 2017, a right-wing terrorist drove his car into a gathering of anti-racist and anti-fascist demonstrators in Charlottesville, VA, killing one person and injuring at least 19 others.

That same day the the FBI arrested a right-wing terrorist in Oklahoma City, OK, for trying to detonate a large bomb to blow up a downtown bank building.

On December 22, 2017, a neo-Nazi teenager shot and killed his girlfriend’s parents in Reston, VA, after her parents forbid her from seeing him any more because of his right-wing beliefs.

On February 5, 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report documenting that over 100 people had been killed or injured by perpetrators influenced by the “alt-right” movement.

On April 26, 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative opened its National Memorial for Peace and Justice to remember the more than 4400 African Americans who were killed by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.

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