Descendants of Confederate Rest dead would have a strong legal claim to contest removal of grave marker they paid for
and was accepted by the City of Madison
Forest Hill Cemetery is a National Historical site. Landmark Commission chairman Stuart Levitan acknowledged that “five of the nine Secretary [of U.S. Department of the Interior] standards would be violated by removing the marker. Our ordinance … incorporates those federal standards. Does the Secretary of the Interior have jurisdiction? I don’t know the answer.” City attorney May countered the only appeal would be to circuit court.
We have no doubt that the United Daughters of the Confederacy whitewashed the horrors of slavery almost up to the present day.
When Rhett Butler returns from his midnight ride without Scarlet O’Hara’s unfortunate husband, killed by occupying Union soldiers, it is unspoken that they had been on a midnight Klan ride.
It is also possible that the aging Union veterans who shed blood to end slavery and who dedicated the gravestone at Madison’s Confederate Rest back in 1906 were ignorant — or perhaps indifferent if they did know — of the lynchings and systematic apartheid oppressing the South in those terrible days. Some of the best and brightest of the liberal-progressive movement, people like Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, and UW president Charles Van Hise, were overtly racist. (Unlike Porter Butts and Fredric March.)
They subscribed to or helped perpetuate the false narrative of the contented slave, the wise mammy, and the benevolent aristocrat in the big house up the hill.
Whatever the sins of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the grave marker at the quiet corner of Forest Hill Cemetery rewrites no history, whitewashes no evil, justifies no lost cause. It depicts no triumphant general astride a noble horse, extols no “unsung hero,” claims no “valor.”
But Madison cannot miss out on signaling its virtue, not after the Charlottesville riot. So Mayor Soglin searched the city for some relic and settled on this modest grave marker. No surprise that the Common Council voted 16-2 (Skidmore and Verveer.) Tuesday night (10-02-18) to put the stone on a flatbed truck and haul it away where it can no longer incite racial hatred that, heretofore, went undetected.
Anyone see the difference?
At a previous meeting, Alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney wondered why no stones marking slave graves in Madison. Might it be because Madison had no slaves? The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 specifically prohibited slavery in these parts. What slaves touched ground in Wisconsin did so on their way through the Underground Railroad to freedom.
Ald. Matt Phair has contended that the Madison woman who maintained the formerly neglected burial plot was a member of the Confederate Daughters. Alice Waterman died in 1897, three years after the founding of the UDC.
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Landmarks Commission chairman Stu Levitan did his best to represent his panel’s vote to keep the gravestone where it was, that it satisfied most of the conditions for an historic landmark. But he encouraged the alders to challenge that finding, and so they did.
One citizen last night regretted that black soldiers were prevented from attending that June dedication conducted by the Grand Army of the Republic. The speaker present no evidence for his claim or that Wisconsin fielded black soldiers.
Ald. Allen Arnsten, who moved reconsideration of the Landmarks Commission ruling to keep the grave marker, argued Tuesday night: “This is not inclusive. This is not welcoming.”
“Erected in loving memory by United Daughters of Confederacy
to Alice Whiting Waterman and ‘her boys'”
“The propaganda of racists.” — Alder Arvina Martin (10-02-18)
“A symbol of white supremacy.” — Alder Shiva Bidar-Sielaff
No one is bitching that the plaque extolling “unsung heroes” was removed. No one seems certain how it was placed there to begin with. It is possible that the Wisconsin Historic Society may also weigh in.
It would seem that some descendant of the 140 Confederate POWs buried at Forest Hill Cemetery would have legal grounds to bring lawsuit against the city. Such a claimant could plausibly claim that an ancestor dropped a dollar in the basket toward erecting the first permanent marker for their departed relative. Because the stone, plinth, monument, cenotaph predated the individual gravestones erected three years later. Because they replaced easily worn, wooden boards.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: By what right does the City remove any grave marker once accepted for placement, as this stone was all these 112 years ago? Could they decide that Mr. Van Hise — like Messieurs Butts and March — no longer meets the city’s terribly “woke” standards?