Thursday, August 17, 2017

Helena to remove country's northernmost Confederate monument

Posted By on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 11:05 AM

A fountain dedicated as "a loving tribute to our confederate soldiers" in a Helena city park will be removed in wake of the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Helena City Commission directed city staff to remove the monument—the only public tribute to the Confederacy in the northwest—after two hours of public comment Wednesday. The commission did not take a vote, but members expressed unanimous support for its removal, citing public safety concerns and the monument's racist history.

So did Mayor Jim Smith, who two years ago had resisted calls to remove the fountain after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. At the time, Smith compared removal to totalitarianism, and the commission agreed instead to add an informational placard to the fountain. But recent events, and particularly a request by the eight members of the Montana Legislature's American Indian Caucus, changed his mind.

"I really thought we could find a compromise that would be acceptable, but circumstances and events have overwhelmed our intentions two years ago," Smith said Wednesday.
click to enlarge The Helena City Commission directed staff Thursday to remove the 101-year-old monument to confederate soldiers erected in a city park. It's thought to be the northernmost public memorial to the Confederacy in the United States commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • The Helena City Commission directed staff Thursday to remove the 101-year-old monument to confederate soldiers erected in a city park. It's thought to be the northernmost public memorial to the Confederacy in the United States commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The previously approved educational text summarized the history of the granite fountain, erected in 1916, and the group that pushed for its installation, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. "The UDC openly supported the early Ku Klux Klan in its mission of white supremacy and worked to rewrite school textbooks to distort history by romanticizing the Old South," reads a portion of the draft text posted to the Helena Independent Record.

That text was never installed, due to delays that weren't fully explained at Wednesday's meeting, adding to pressure on the commission.

The commission did not set a timetable for the fountain's removal, saying only that it ought to come down as soon as possible, nor did the commission decide what do with its remnants.

Instead, apparently motivated by concern that the fountain could become a flashpoint for violent protest like the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, commissioners decided to remove the fountain quickly.

Dozens of people spoke for and against the fountain's removal during the meeting. Those seeking to preserve the monument generally equated its removal with erasing history.

"We don't change history by pretending it didn't happen," said one Helena resident.

The sentiment was repeated Thursday morning by President Donald Trump, who tweeted that he was "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!"

Some on social media, unaware of the 2015 debate, wondered why Montana had a monument to the confederacy in the first place, given that it didn't gain statehood until 1889.

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