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.

21st Century Anti-intellectualism

NYU's 2016 graduation ceremony
NYU’s 2016 graduation ceremony, Yankee Stadium (Jeff Burgess)

I recently attended New York University’s 184th commencement ceremony. I felt a bit like a traitor being there, because it was held at Yankee Stadium and I grew up a Detroit Tigers baseball fan. But it’s the Yankees’ fancy new stadium, not the original one, and I was there to see my daughter graduate with honors.

The ceremony was amazing, and not just because of the spectacular venue. It included the bestowment of honorary degrees to some outstanding individuals. One of them was given to John Lewis, the iconic black civil rights activist who risked his life alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the South in the 1960s, getting repeatedly beaten and arrested for protesting against discrimination. Another was given to Emmanuelle Charpentier, a scientist who’s recent work on genome editing is helping to revolutionize medical treatments. The celebrity Billy Crystal also received one for his outstanding career in the entertainment industry, along with his many contributions to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts .

There were also several inspirational speeches given by various faculty members and students. Each speech was unique and interesting in its own way. But they all shared a common theme: The real purpose of education isn’t to simply help graduates find good jobs, but to broaden minds, encourage the use of science to solve problems, promote social justice, and continually seek the truth.

I confess these speeches brought tears to my eyes. One reason, of course, was that I was very proud of my daughter for graduating from such a prestigious institution. But also because they reminded me of how low are nation’s standards have recently sunk in regards to the respect for knowledge and truth.

A couple of the speakers helped to remind everybody of that with some thinly veiled references to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. But the ongoing assault on public education by Republicans in Arizona is just as troubling. According to reports by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state spending on Arizona’s K-12 public school students has fallen 17.5 percent since 2008, the third-deepest rate of school budget cuts in the nation. And a recent U.S. Census Bureau report showed that the state’s school spending is about 33 percent below the national average of $10,700, and 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Furthermore, while these cuts were being implemented, private school tax credits were expanded.

As for higher education in Arizona, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities issued another report that showed no other state has cut state university funding more since the Great Recession. This year’s budget restored a portion of the $99 million Ducey and the legislature cut from the state’s universities last year, but $5 million of it is earmarked for so-called freedom schools – think tanks established by the Koch brothers to promote a radical libertarian ideology that includes the privatization of the public schools.

The vast majority of Arizona’s voters didn’t support these cuts. A survey conducted last fall, for example, found that 69% opposed the $99 million cut to university spending, and only 36% supported raiding the state’s First Things First early childhood development program to help fund K-12 schools.

“As people do better, they start voting like Republicans – unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.” – Republican strategist Karl Rove

Republican Governor Doug Ducey and the state’s Republican-controlled legislature were forced to respond to this widespread opposition to their education funding cuts. They passed a ballot initiative, called Proposition 123, that proposed to distribute more funds to public schools from State Trust land revenues. The voters narrowly approved it in May. But the primary objective of these Republicans in submitting this proposal to the voters wasn’t to adequately fund the schools, but to make it possible for more tax decreases, so they can continue to implement a dubious supply-side economic strategy for the state.

The refusal of Arizona Republicans to adequately fund public schools highlights the lack of respect they have for education. This attitude is exemplified by the influential Arizona Republican Assembly, a group dedicated to promoting “true conservative” candidates for office. Their principles say that, “We must insure no school or teachers’ union can compromise the education of our children or advance a particular political agenda at the expense of our future generation’s education.” In other words, they believe education should promote a conservative ideology, and they reject the classic liberal education that has served Western civilization so well.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t a new phenomenon in the United States. But this modern version being nurtured by conservative dark money lords and their Republican marionettes is especially dangerous because the world is growing increasingly complicated and voters need to be well-informed. The answers to modern problems aren’t simple and can’t be solved by putting up walls.

The Arizona Ministries of Truth

George Orwell
George Orwell Wikipedia

Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey, in cooperation with the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, allocated $5 million in the state’s FY 2017 budget for three “freedom schools” at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. The money will go to the U of A’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom, ASU’s Center for Political Thought and Leadership, and ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. These three schools were established with seed money from the Charles Koch Foundation, an organization that promotes a radical libertarian ideology. The billionaire Koch brothers provided millions in “dark money” support for Ducey’s 2014 election campaign.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, no other state has cut university funding more than Arizona since the Great Recession. Last year, for example, Ducey and the Legislature reduced state university funding by $99 million. This year’s budget restores just $32 million, but $5 million of it is earmarked for the so-called freedom schools – or about 15% of the increased funding.

Ducey’s spokesperson Daniel Scarpinato defended the earmark by saying the governor “believes it’s important that students in our university system are exposed to a broad range of viewpoints and academic views on a number of issues, including economics.”

Several Republican legislators also voiced their support. Representative Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, a former conservative radio talk show host, said the money represents “a wonderful opportunity” to fund conservative viewpoints, which he claims are lacking at the state’s universities.

But Arizona Republicans weren’t concerned about encouraging different viewpoints when the they passed HB 2281 in 2010. That law was used to stop Mexican-American studies classes from being taught in Tucson’s public schools. John Huppenthal, Arizona’s school superintendent at the time, helped get it passed because he claimed the classes taught Mexican-American students to resent Anglos.

If Republicans are so concerned about the quality of the information that’s being given to the state’s students, then why aren’t they concerned about what’s being taught at the freedom schools? Dr. William Boyes, for instance, the founding director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, is advocating for the elimination of public schools. He gave a speech last fall in support of the School Sucks Project in which he rejected the belief held by most Americans that public schools are a foundation of our democracy. He called for the end of public schools, saying they are our biggest obstacle to greater personal and political liberty.

Furthermore, Dr. Boyes in an advocate of the Austrian School of economic thought, which is promoted by the Mises Institute.  Austrian School economic theory advocates the concept of methodological individualism – that social phenomena result from the motivations and actions of individuals. It rejects the use of econometrics and macroeconomic analysis. Instead, it calls for the government to be dismembered so the free market can magically solve all problems.

If this doesn’t seem to make sense, that’s because it doesn’t. There aren’t any reputable economists that believe in it. But, not coincidentally, Austrian School economic theory can be used to justify a radical libertarian political ideology.

Updates

The FY 2018 state budget passed by Arizona Republicans gave another  $2 million to the state’s “freedom schools” at the U of A and ASU. This was in addition to their ongoing $5 million annual appropriation. Republican Rep. Anthony Kern, who pushed for the funding, claimed the schools are needed to counteract the widespread “liberal indoctrination” that’s going on at the state’s universities.

The FY 2019 state budget passed by Arizona Republicans included another  $2.5 million for the state’s “freedom schools.” This was in addition to the ongoing $5 million annual appropriation. Republican Sen. John Kavanagh said the money was needed to help balance “left-wing bias” at the state’s universities. The U of A and ASU will each receive $1 million more, and Northern Arizona University will get $500,000 to establish a new school there.

Total Appropriations to AZ Freedom Schools: $19.5 million

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