This morning I woke up to a headline on KOMO’s website that simultaneously made my heart sink and my blood boil, Group wants Confederate monument removed from local cemetery.
SEATTLE – A Confederate monument in Capitol Hill’s Lake View Cemetery is in the spotlight as a local group calls for its removal.
For more than a century, Lake View Cemetery has been the final resting place for many of Seattle’s pioneers.
Only a short walk from one of the cemetery’s most visited grave sites – that of Bruce Lee – a 14-foot granite monument memorializes Washington state’s Confederate veterans and their families.
“Just because it’s a military memorial doesn’t justify it,” Charlette LaFevere says. “It’s offensive.”
LeFevere is part of a small group calling on Seattle city leaders to have the 89-year-old United Confederate Veterans Memorial taken down.
“To me this is the most racist monument in the Northwest,” says LaFevere.
Just this weekend I read Marjorie Ann Reeves’ book about the Robert E. Lee Chapter #885 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the local chapter of this heritage group that was established in 1890. The Seattle chapter was founded in 1905 and has a proud history of supporting our country and community. They have worked jointly with other civic and patriotic organizations for 110 years.
Given how clear the modern UDC is that its objectives are historical, educational, benevolent, memorial and patriotic— and especially that it is not a racist organization– I strongly suggest these complainants get to know the people who erected and care for the memorial before accusing them of racism. A recent post on a Seattle P-I blog suggested that the memorial is a not-so-veiled KKK monument that serves no historical purpose and has no place in Seattle.
WHEREAS, The United Daughters of the Confederacy® is a patriotic Organization which honors and upholds the United States of America and respects its Flag, AND
WHEREAS, The United Daughters of the Confederacy® does not subscribe to policies of individuals, groups or organizations that do not honor and respect the United States of America and its Flag,
THEREFORE, BE IT KNOWN, that The United Daughters of the Confederacy® does not associate with or include in its official UDC functions and events, any individual, group or organization known as unpatriotic, militant, racist or subversive to the United States of America and its Flag, AND
BE IT FURTHER KNOWN, that The United Daughters of the Confederacy® will not associate with any individual, group or organization identified as being militant, unpatriotic, racist or subversive to the United States of America and its Flag.
Does this group know the ladies of the local UDC chapter, who originally raised the memorial and now care for it– and have to repair it when vandals hit? I do. They are descendants of Confederate veterans who are passionate about history and love their country. Not all are Southerners. Not all are Americans, even. They are a diverse group who choose to honor their ancestors– not slavery. It is narrow-minded indeed to assume that everyone who fought for the South, descended from the South, or educates others about the South is a racist.
Unfortunately, in school we are taught generalizations that have many adults thinking, “Northerners didn’t own slaves and all Southerners did” or “All Northerners were against slavery and all Southerners were for it.” Both statements are untrue. It’s also not true that the primary motivation for Southern soldiers to fight was to keep their slaves. Many didn’t own slaves or even approve of slavery. As I stated in a recent post, Remembering the Blue and Gray (which correctly predicted that someone would vandalize the Seattle UDC memorial):
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, like many Americans, I have both Union and Confederate ancestors. At the time of this writing, more than a month after the G.A.R. Cemetery cleanup, anti-Confederate fervor is at a high not known in decades after the Charleston church shooting. I hesitate to include these photos because I’m concerned that some historically-ignorant or bigoted person will take it upon themselves to deface this piece of history. It will cost some wonderful staunchly non-racist women at the United Daughters of the Confederacy dearly out of their own pockets if something bad happens. This has already been vandalized in the past, but probably not for anti-Confederate reasons.
There were a number of issues driving the Civil War, namely the role of the federal government, states’ rights, preserving the Union, and economic issues. Ultimately the South believed it should have the right to break away. Slavery was certainly a prominent component of all of these issues, but many people didn’t take up arms to end or defend slavery. They asked why the federal government had the right to force them to be part of a union they felt they should be able to choose to secede from.
Similar questions are being asked in light of Supreme Court rulings this week both by those who agree and disagree with those outcomes– does the federal government have the right to dictate to the states? Or does the Constitution allow the states to make most decisions for themselves? In that context, it’s easier to understand why Southerners took up arms. Of course some were adamant about maintaining the ungodly institution of slavery, but it’s ignorant and offensive to suggest that all Confederates and/or Southerners were racist. My Confederate was multiracial and like many, a grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran. Many Southerners probably saw their cause as very similar to that which created our country in the first place.
Destroying Confederate memorials is only gasoline on the fire. Broad generalizations will only deepen the rifts vandals claim to be fighting against. While I absolutely condemn slavery and repeatedly remind people that the ground is level at the foot of the cross– no man is above another– I also choose to honor my Confederate ancestors and to preserve their history. We can show respect for the people who fought for what their home turf thought was right without agreeing with any erroneous ideologies. The Union and Confederate troops are part of our history and to erase the Confederacy from our memory will come to no good end. We must teach our children the whole story.
As a Christian, I am squarely against racism and slavery. My heavenly boss mandates that; many of my ancestors were outspoken against that horror. But racism has become a convenient catch-all term for anything certain people groups don’t like. For example, I don’t like how certain cultures that come to our country promote violence against women. Some will be quick to cry “racist!” when my dislike has nothing to do with race. The ideologies of which I speak transcend race and permeate many cultures. Even if a group of men who all look exactly alike treat women as substandard beings, I would still call out that behavior, and that still doesn’t make me a racist.
So I would ask people to consider what they really mean before calling someone or something racist. They’re not racist just because you don’t like it/them. They’re not racist just because you say so. The biggest demonstration of intolerance I’ve seen in this case so far is the call to have a historical monument removed in a free country– and in a city that claims to be so tolerant and inclusive. A friend of mine asked why the defacing of the UDC monument is not being treated as a hate crime. That’s a valid question.
But I remind myself that, in our area, practicing bigotry and intolerance is often okay when you claim to be acting out against bigotry and intolerance. That’s what it feels like in Seattle in 2015, especially when a vocal minority cries out for this monument’s removal as the city continues to turn a blind eye to its gigantic statue of one of the 20th century’s most prolific mass murderers, Lenin. And to whoever felt enlightened enough to vandalize the UDC memorial, it is never okay to desecrate someone’s grave site, especially not a fellow American’s or a solider’s. That is sacred ground.
Those calling for the monument’s removal also need to be educated about who, exactly, lies at rest below this arch. I talked about some of them in Remembering the Blue and Gray. These men spent a few years of their youth fighting for the South and then relocated to the Northwest, becoming productive and accomplished local citizens. Local historian Matt McCauley pointed out that the original founders of Seattlle were abolitionists and Union sympathizers. There was strong Northern sentiment here and the former Confederate soldiers who moved here knew that. McCauley said you could not live and do business in 1865 to 1920 Seattle and have been a slavery supporter; “you’d have been an outcast.”
While I can’t speak for the men buried at the UDC monument, I will say it’s possible to love the South and its way of life separate from endorsing the egregious horror that is slavery. Having strong feelings for the South, being from the South, and loving a Southern way of life are not synonymous with wanting or loving the unconscionable abuse and sale of fellow human beings. McCauley reminded me that many anti-slavery Southerners were conscripted or enlisted (in the Confederate cause) due to state loyalty. Some asked how they could take up arms against their own people, communities, and states. Do not assume that these men were slave owners or racists or bigots because they wore gray instead of blue. And lest we treat slave owning or racism or bigotry as unpardonable sins, God forgives upon request. People and organizations can evolve.
Returning to Marjorie Ann Reeves’ A Chapter in Pacific Northwest History, it was in 1926 that a 10-ton block of granite was shipped from Stone Mountain, Georgia to Seattle via the Panama Canal. The UDC had begun plans for a Confederate memorial at Stone Mountain a decade prior, one which was partially financed by the federal government. Edward G. Messett and James A. Wehn designed and sculpted the Seattle monument, with the bronze plaque of Robert E. Lee’s head a gift from Wehn. The cornerstone of the monument was laid on April 11th and it was unveiled on Memorial Day. In attendance, and even speaking, “were Washington State Governor Roland G. Hartley, Seattle Mayor Edwin J. Brown, Tacoma Mayor-Elect M.G. Tennent, and leaders of veterans groups from all over the state.”
Seattle Mayor Edwin J. Brown, may I point out, was a Socialist. This book contains a photo of a May 14th, 1926 letter from him to the local UDC chapter that says, “I thank you for your kind invitation to attend the exercises and speaking on the occasion of the unveiling of the Confederate Monument in Lakeview Cemetery… and shall be pleased to be present.” Governor Hartley was a Republican and Republicans had long been against slavery. The veterans would have been of various political and religious persuasions. Some had fought on the Union side. It was common, by this point, for Confederate and Union veterans to appear at public events together, like in parades.
Do you see where I’m going with this? This region was able to unite to commemorate the war’s dead and acknowledge their common past. They did not seek to erase it. They sought to heal from it, to learn from it, and to move on. Reeves mentioned that a Confederate flag was displayed at this ceremony– General George E. Pickett’s battle flag from Gettysburg, which was displayed with the U.S. flag. Right now a knee jerk reaction to the murders of my brothers and sisters in Christ in Charleston is to erase Southern symbols from our culture, including this flag. It’s easier and more visible to make superficial public gestures like that than make the daily effort to reach out to and love others different than ourselves. The former can be paraded on social media as well.
Page 35 of Reeves’ book has a clipping from a local paper showing a picture of the UDC monument, and the unknown writer’s words need to be read by those attacking this memorial and calling for its destruction:
Blue and Gray Pay Honor to Heroic Dead
Confederate Monument Dedication Attended by Seattle Veterans; Unity Held Cemented
The great understanding of American ideals and principles, of American perseverance and ability that came of the Civil War, was brought home forcefully to the large number of people who attended and participated in the unveiling of a Confederate monument in Lake View Cemetery yesterday afternoon.
Significant of the present unity of the nation was the cosmopolitan character of principals in the ceremony. Veterans of the blue and veterans of the gray sat side by side on the speakers’ platform. Colored color sergeants standing beside the memorial throughout the dedicatory exercises revived keen memories of the purpose of the struggle between the North and the South.
Veterans of the Spanish-American War touched elbows with the olive drab of participants in the World War. Representatives of organizations dedicated to veteran relief work were present from all parts of the state.
M.G. Tennant, mayor-elect of Tacoma, struck the keynote of the occasion when he declared that the great understanding that has come out of the struggle justifies its terrible cost. “We know now that never again will there be a division in the United States,” he said.
The monument marks consummation of a dream of Southern women in the Northwest of more than two decades ago, declared Mrs. May Avery Wilkins, president of the Washington Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The monument is sponsored by the Robert E. Lee Chapter No. 885 of that organization.
Tribute to the valor and devotions of the soldiers of the Confederacy was paid by Mrs. Bradley T. Fowles, president of the chapter, by Mrs. Blackman of the Mildred Lee Chapter of Spokane, and by Mrs. J.D. Smith, president of Dixie Chapter of Tacoma.
“We are here to dedicate this monument to a cause that cemented America forever, ” said Mayor Edwin J. Brown. D.B. Trefethen spoke on behalf of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce; State Commander William Downey of the Spanish War Veterans on behalf of that organization, and B. Schwellenbach on behalf of the American Legion, of which he is state adjutant.
Again, note the diversity of the people present. Note that they were united, not divided. Note that no one saw it weird or bigoted or politically incorrect to dedicate such a memorial. While some would argue that this was almost 90 years ago, at a time when minorities were not yet recognized as equal, I find this event far more inclusive and open-minded than some of the divisive and partisan functions the Seattle area hosts today. We live in a free country, yet there a rapidly increasing number of people who claim that others’ freedoms should be shut down to accommodate their own views. That’s not what freedom is about. That is slavery.
Ultimately those who want to wipe the South’s history off of the map and sanitize America of views or symbols that don’t sit right with their own need to get to know our shared history. I would also note that these same people would scream “freedom of speech!” if someone of an opposing view asked them to rid themselves of symbols that might be deemed offensive. They need to understand that a major reason for preserving our common history is so our children know their past and make better choices.
In this case, they should know who put the UDC memorial up and why. They need to acknowledge that the people who maintain the memorial are not racist and are allowed to honor their heritage as well as the Northwesterners buried there. If they truly want to make a difference in the injustice and bigotry in our society, they should start by having their facts in order and by choosing to build others up rather than tearing American history, with all its twists, turns, and flaws, down.
We need to be intimately familiar with our past, and we can love and honor those who came before us without liking everything they did. We can forgive the past instead of trying to reignite the Civil War in the name of political correctness, and celebrate what we have in common rather than disturbing the dead. Most of us wouldn’t imagine marching into a cemetery and demanding to remodel someone else’s burial plot. If I felt the modern UDC’s motivation to maintain this memorial was racist, I wouldn’t waste a second of my time defending it.
The bottom line is, Seattle, take the Lenin out of your own eye. Don’t tear down. Do as those present at the dedication of this memorial did. Heal. Learn. Build. Unite. Lead.
I visited the UDC memorial tonight, and aside from it looking very clean and a green discoloration near a small plaque of the Confederate flag, I don’t see evidence of the recent vandalism, so thank you to Lake View for cleaning this up so well already. Let’s hope people have the respect, dignity, and maturity to leave this alone in the future.
Those who do not look upon themselves as links connecting the past with the future do not perform their duty to the world. -Daniel Webster
Update, 7/14/15: KIRO Radio featured this topic this morning, TOM AND CURLEY, Should Seattle remove its memorial to the Confederacy? (click to listen) They mentioned how King County, Washington– where Seattle is– was originally named after “a Confederate guy.” King County decided to consider itself named in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of William Rufus Devane King because the latter was a slaveholder. See A look at King County’s original (ex) namesake. Note that King was a Unionist– meaning he opposed secession.
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