Removal of Confederate plaque from Charleston park triggers debate

A blank space in the center of this marker in Charleston’s Ruffner Park is all that remains after a plaque bearing names of local militia members who fought for the South was suddenly removed.

This week, the City of Charleston removed a plaque from a monument at Ruffner Memorial Park that recognized members of the Confederacy.

As MetroNews reported, “The plaque, dedicated in 1922 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Kanawha Riflemen Chapter, listed multiple military officers as well as a “colored cook, faithful during the war.”

A city spokesperson said Monday, “The City of Charleston removed the confederate monument out of Ruffner Park, which is owned and maintained by the City of Charleston.  It was the right thing to remove it, and so we did earlier today.”

Charleston resident Calvin Grimm said he noticed the plaque during a walk one day, researched the history and asked the city to remove it. “The Kanawha Riflemen were a group of rich bullies who used terrorism to force others to vote for secession before the war,” he told me in an email.

The West Virginia Encyclopedia describes the Riflemen more generically as a group of 75 to 100 “unabashedly pro-southern” fighters who battled Union troops at Scary Creek in Kanawha County on July 17, 1861.”

Ernest Blevens, Commander of the Robert S. Garnett Camp 1470, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, has weighed in on the debate with a much different perspective.

He said this and other similar monuments “are part of a movement of the late 1800s, both North and South, to recognize the community involvement and sacrifice of the war years.  These monuments should be protected, not dismantled.”

These are the kinds of arguments that are going on in West Virginia and across the country.  Today, the Harrison County Commission is again taking up the question of whether to remove the statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson from in front of the county courthouse.

Just a few days ago, the Mississippi Legislature voted overwhelmingly in support of a bill that will remove the Confederate symbol from the state flag.  Governor Tate Reeves said he will sign the bill into law.

The death of George Floyd was the impetus for Mississippi’s actions, but as Mississippi College sssistant professor of history and political science, Otis Pickett, told me, the debate over the flag has been going on for years there.

“One thing that is beautiful about Mississippi, we’re actually kind of a leader in the nation,” he told me. “We’ve been having these discussions for 20 or 30 years. We’ve been talking about the state flag, we’ve been talking about the markers, we’ve been talking about reconciliation.”

He said those conversations provide insight and perspective, so that when change comes, the decisions are more thoughtful and less of a knee-jerk reaction that tends to anger and polarize the citizenry.

Of course, West Virginia should not wait two or three decades to decide what to do with controversial statues and memorials, but it also does not mean we should allow mobs to yank then down or build steel fences around them.

We are in a period of re-calibration, and that requires rational thinking and, in this case, a deeper dive into the history of each statue and memorial, perhaps by a commission made up of experts and interested parties.

No, not everyone will be satisfied with the outcomes, but just like Mississippi and the flag, there will have been a coherent corrective course, which is how we will move ahead as West Virginians.

 

 





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