We’re going to need a lot more plaques!
Only a committed progressive like Madison Mayor Paul Soglin could detect the faint, deep-space, racist dog whistle of white supremacism lurking all these years right there on city property. How the offending stone escaped the attention of the State Historical Society, the Wisconsin State Journal, UW-Madison academics, and the general public all these years is truly a mystery.
In the wake of the August 12 Charlottesville protest, Paul Soglin, mayor of Madison for 21 years (off and on) found his burning cross in a quiet and somber corner of Madison’s most prestigious cemetery, Forest Hill. The vicious monument to hate consists of a large stone standing at the entrance to Confederates Rest, the final resting place of 140 captured southern soldiers who died in captivity at Madison’s Camp Randall in 1862.
The monument had escaped censure for its 86 years on the site. Indeed, it had once had been celebrated as a part of Madison’s history. Today, in the super-heated atmosphere of the Trump Resistance, Mayor Soglin now finds this momument to be a “slab of propaganda” that is “nothing more than a stone lie” and:
“A 1931 vicious neo-Confederate monument to racism and white superiority.”
What vicious message does this stone bear? The names of the 140 Johnny Rebs buried in the northern-most Confederate cemetery and this hateful (SNARK-alert) inscription:
Erected in loving memory by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to Mrs. Alice Whiting Waterman “and her boys.”
Sorry, but those rough words had to be reported in the interest of racial healing. “Her boys,” indeed! “Treasonous rebels,” is what Soglin calls them (although Abraham Lincoln, never did). Should have been lined up and shot before they could expire of their wounds, dysentery, and exposure.
Hardly General Lee, triumphant on Traveller
Let’s get real: How, exactly, does the large monument glorify slavery or sedition? Or, for that matter, the plaque, now removed from the ground in front, except (perhaps) to label the soldier dead “unsung heroes.” But then, it is customary to speak well of the dead. These were, after all, American brothers, sons, fathers and husbands.
Who is this Alice woman? Let’s get to some history before it is erased or effaced. Alice Whiting Waterman was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1820 but moved with her family north at age 9, eventually to Madison in 1866 as a widow with the express purpose of caring for the soldier dead, buried so far from their homes and loved ones. For the soldiers who had been dumped in a mass grave, she secured proper headstones, each measuring 2 feet high. She joined “her boys” in 1897, the only civilian buried at the northern-most Confederate cemetery.
The lady may very well have been a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which Soglin excoriates as “a racist organization.” UDC was founded by the daughters and widows of Confederate soldiers in 1891, a period when southern legislatures revoked Reconstruction reforms, persecuted African-Americans — all enforced by hundreds of lynchings every year. So yes, they were likely racists. But then, so was half the country — and not just the south. But they weren’t the Klan.
Whatever their past, the Daughters of the Confederacy, UDC issued this statement just this Monday (08-21-17):
To some, these memorial statues and markers are viewed as divisive and thus unworthy of being allowed to remain in public places. To others, they simply represent a memorial to our forefathers who fought bravely during four years of war. …
The United Daughters of the Confederacy totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy. And we call on these people to cease using Confederate symbols for their abhorrent and reprehensible purposes.
Madison is going to need many more plaques
Yes, they and their dead were very much on the wrong side of history. Soglin now says he wants to erect a plaque next to the monument to excoriate the Daughters, to unmask their wicked treachery.
Let’s not stop there. Let’s tell the whole story of progressives like UW president Charles Van Hise (“Human defectives should no longer be allowed to propagate the race.”) Van Hise Hall on the UW-Madison campus and the Madison elementary school named for this progressive racist need new “Soglin plaques.”
For that matter, stick a Soglin plaque next to the UW’s “sifting and winnowing” plaque explaining that it’s O.K. to stifle speech that offends today’s post-Trumpatic snowflakes.
The Madison city limit signs need a plaque apologizing that our namesake was a slave master.
While we’re at it, let’s affix a plaque to Paul Soglin. A hammer and sickle with a likeness of the brutal, anti-American dictator Fidel Castro. Make him wear it like Hester Prynne’s letter A. If you’re really serious about human rights.
For further study:
- The New York Times maps Confederate monuments being taken down across the U.S. They are, overwhelmingly, depicted as heroic figures, often astride prancing horses, located in the heart of the city, if not the state capitol itself.
- Only two years ago, a UW-Madison team led by professor William Cronon studied Forest Hill Cemetery for the UW’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment. Their study of Forest Hill Cemetery apparently missed the vicious racism.
- In “Madison in 100 objects”, the Wisconsin State Journal also missed the vicious racism so obvious now to Mayor Soglin (first elected in 1973).