Protests fuel calls for Confederate monuments’ removal The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Protests fuel calls for Confederate monuments’ removal

Protests fuel calls for Confederate monuments’ removal

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

Protests against racism have renewed the calls for the removal of Confederate monuments in Arizona – including one in Gold Canyon and another at the State Capitol.

On June 8, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs asked a top aide to Gov. Doug Ducey to remove a monument to the Confederacy from a state park across from the Capitol.

The following day, about 20 Gold Canyon residents held a silent protest over a monument near US 60 to Confederacy president Jefferson Davis that organizer David Coward called one of “the symbols of racism that exist within our community.”

The monument, near the Peralta Road turnoff was installed decades ago by a pro-confederate women’s group when a state board named the old U.S. 80 the Jefferson Davis Highway. The group disbanded in 2002.

“It was part of a commemorative highway that stretched from coast to coast through the south,” Coward said, noting the highway’s name was in opposition to the Lincoln Highway that stretched across the northern half of the country.

“Efforts have been underway for several years to remove this monument to racism to no avail,” he said in an email to neighbors.

Coward asked them not to post the message on social media, warning, “This is a peaceful memorial service but there are elements in our community that approve of this symbol of racism and may want to disrupt this event.”

He said he wanted to “bring attention to this stain on our community and to honor George Floyd and all the other people who are victims of our unequal justice system.”

Meanwhile, in a letter Monday to Andy Tobin, director of the Department of Administration, Hobbs said the Capitol monument was erected not right after the Civil War but not until the early 1960s, when the country was on the brink of several major civil rights breakthroughs.

“It was a clear attempt to repudiate the progress of our country,’’ she wrote.

Now, Hobbs said, the nation “once again faces a moment of transformation.’’

“We won’t heal the divisions in our country by honoring those who would divide us,’’ she said.

The letter went to Tobin, named to the position by Ducey, because Arizona law gives him the power to relocate any of the monuments in Wes Bolin Park.

Ducey himself has been hostile to prior efforts to remove this and other Confederate monuments, saying in 2017 he does not favor their removal.

“I don’t think we should try to hide our history,’’ the governor said, including this one which is within view of his office window at the Capitol.

But Hobbs’s letter took issue with that point of view.

“Removing this monument isn’t a choice to erase our history, it’s a choice to embrace our future,’’ she wrote.

Hobbs said it does not deserve to remain in the public park.

“This is a monument to soldiers on the losing side of a war who rose up against the country in treason to protect the practice of slavery,’’ she told Capitol Media Services.

Tobin said he’s been personally bothered for years that there was a road from Phoenix to Globe named the Jefferson Davis Highway.

The issue of monuments and the Confederacy has taken on new life in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, an incident that was captured on video.

That has energized nationwide protests and resulted in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam saying he intends to remove a statute honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Hobbs acknowledged that if the Capitol monument is removed it is likely to be little more than symbolic.

“This is not going to solve anything,’’ she told Capitol Media Services. “But I think it would make a really strong statement about the priorities of our state leadership to do something about this monument.’’

The monument at the Capitol was a gift to the state in 1962 by the now-defunct Arizona chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – which also moved the Jefferson Davis monument from Duncan, near the New Mexico border, to Gold Canyon with state approval in 1961.

State officials at the time were making a stand against the Civil Rights Movement.

In justifying the governor’s position in 2017, a press aide cited a national Marist Poll done for NPR and PBS that said 62 percent of Americans think the monuments and statues to the Confederacy should stay.

A statewide survey at the time found that 51.5 percent of the 400 people said the memorial should be allowed to return.

Hobbs said she favored the 2017 effort to move the monument when she was in the legislature.

But she added, “Right now, we’re at a tipping point” and suggested the Capitol monument be moved into non-public storage at the Capitol Museum, which falls under her purview.

That, she said, ensures it preservation and protects it from vandals.

The Gold Canyon monument bears chisel scars from previous acts of vandalism.

ADOT Director John Halikowski acknowledges that the Arizona Highway Commission voted in 1961 to designate U.S. 80 through Arizona as the Jefferson Davis National Highway.

But there is no longer a U.S. 80 in Arizona, Halikowski pointed out in a letter three years ago and that various stretches of the roads it covered now carry different numbers, including U.S. 60 and Arizona 80.

As U.S. 80 disappeared, Halikowski said, so did the designation.

Still, the Davis monument remains in Gold Canyon with at least tacit state permission.

An ADOT spokesman in 2017 said department engineers have determined it’s “not an immediate safety hazard,” so there are no safety reasons to remove it. He said ADOT wants to talk to whoever owns the monument before making any decision — but conceded the state has no idea who that is.

The spokesman also noted the ADOT might have “to do some historical analysis pursuant to federal law to see if it qualifies for federal protection.”

The Mesa Tribune contributed to this report.

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