Opponents 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 United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began promoting the idea of a national Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in 1913. They were organized in 1894 to ostensibly honor the memory of Confederate veterans, and have successfully promoted the Lost Cause and succeeded in erecting numerous Confederate monuments and memorials across the country. The Jefferson Davis Highway project was their response to the dedication of the Lincoln Highway, an attempt to suggest that Davis’ historical status should be similar to Lincoln’s.
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.
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 same 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.
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:
ARIZONA CONFEDERATE TROOPS
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 national political organization that has vigorously promoted the revisionist history of the Lost Cause in a myriad of ways. By 1914 they had nearly 100,000 members and on Jefferson Davis’s birthday they unveiled a controversial Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. In the 1920s the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans, complained that the UDC had succeeded in getting public school American history books altered to remove any suggestion the Union cause in the Civil War was morally superior. During the Great Depression the UDC succeeded in getting the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to use public money to construct numerous Confederate monuments throughout the South. They have also been accused of manipulating the narratives that were collected from elderly former slaves by the WPA’s Federal Writers’ Project.
Furthermore, the UDC publicly supported the Ku Klux Klan as late as 1936, claiming the KKK had saved the South from Reconstruction after the Civil War. And, as discussed above, the UDC opposed racial desegregation in the South in the 1950s and 60s. The activities held during their annual statewide meeting 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 UDC’s most visible achievement over the years has been to erect hundreds of Confederate monuments on public property. A 2016 survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center found there are 1,503 public Confederate memorials across the U.S., even after those on Civil War battlefields and in museums and cemeteries are excluded. Most of them were erected during the Jim Crow area, and more recently, in opposition to the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
The Efforts to Remove Arizona’s Confederate Monuments
The execution-style murders of nine black people by white supremacist and Confederate sympathizer 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’s Republican 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 Phoenix’s 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 4 the group Progress Now Arizona delivered petitions with more than 1,000 signatures to Gov. Ducey’s office demanding he advocate for the removal of Confederate monuments on state property and for the changing of the name of the Jefferson Davis Highway. They also delivered 100 letters of support from Arizona NAACP chapters, religious leaders, and multiple history and ethics professors from NAU, ASU and the U of A.
Then 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, in their opinion, 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 six of Arizona’s Confederate monuments, including the three located at veterans’ cemeteries. 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.
When Gov. Ducey was asked about the issue on August 14, 2017, he said, “We fought the Civil War and the United States won the Civil War. We freed the slaves and we followed up with civil rights after that.”
The Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops was vandalized with paint on August 17. “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 Rep. Bolding in response to the vandalism.
The on August 19 Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star newspaper reported that Ducey claimed he has no legal role in deciding the future of the memorial. The Legislative Governmental Mall Commission’s chairman Kevin DeMenna explained that’s because the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to remove the monument from the plaza, so it would require the Republican-controlled legislature to pass a bill to authorize it. Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, and Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, agreed. Rep. Mesnard added that it would be good to have a public conversation about each Confederate monument on state property when the legislature reconvened in January 2018, but it never happened.
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 chairman 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. The topic was not included in the commission’s subsequent meeting agenda.
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 SUVCW, which is the official successor to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), has tried to address the issue. 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 August 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.
On April 5, 2018, Gov. Ducey signed Senate Bill 1179, which authorized a monument to Arizona’s black Buffalo Soldiers on the Wesley Bolin plaza. The bill was introduced by Democrats, but received unanimous support from the legislature’s Republicans, even though none of them were willing to support a simultaneous effort by the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) to authorize a Union soldier monument on the plaza.
On May 3, 2018, Gov. Ducey signed Senate Bill 1524. One of its provisions abolished the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission and delegated its authority to the Arizona Department of Administration (ADOA). Instead of public hearings held by a diverse commission, the review of new monuments authorized by the legislature for Wesley Bolin plaza will now be handled by ADOA’s administrative personnel. This provision was opposed by Democrats in the legislature.
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, the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council voted to remove a Confederate memorial from a Confederate prisoner of war cemetery and relocate it to a museum because it was not a gravestone but a political statement.
On October 15, 2018, the Associated Press reported they had discovered that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was spending millions to guard Confederate cemeteries.