It was Monday, state offices were closed in observance of Jefferson Davis’ birthday and the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report noting more than 1,700 monuments, place names and other symbols honoring the Confederacy remain in public spaces.
In Spanish Fort, A.J. DuPree, memorials chairman for the Raphael Semmes Camp 11 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, proudly showed a reporter their latest monument. Just two days earlier, Camp 11 dedicated a 9-foot-tall marble and granite statue of a Confederate soldier at Fort McDermott. While technically not a “public space,” Fort McDermott is owned by Camp 11 but open to the public, and the new, gleaming-white statue flies in the face of a recent nationwide movement to remove such monuments.
The SPLC’s report also noted 110 publicly supported monuments and other tributes to the Confederacy have been removed since the 2015 church massacre by an avowed white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina.
DuPree emphasized the new statue is a “veteran’s memorial” — not depicting a specific individual but rather “dedicated to the Confederate soldier.” The two-piece monument weighs a combined 6,300 pounds and, with rifle in hand, gazes east toward Spanish Main Street. Behind it rises the earthen parapets of the horseshoe-shaped fort, the highest point on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. Camp 11 acquired and improved the property in 2010 and built the statue using private donations.
“After World War I, there was a great attempt nationally to reconcile the perspective of each side,” DuPree said of the Civil War. “And that lasted for quite a while, but unfortunately the division has become a political weapon. And I think the identity politics and its usefulness has given birth to [opposition]. Because never before in American history has destroying veterans’ monuments been admired. And it’s unfortunate that none of that gets acknowledged because ignorance is vast about history.”
Meanwhile, the SPLC’s updated version of its 2016 report “Whose Heritage?” catalogues 1,503 monuments, place names, state holidays and other symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces across the South and the nation.
The updated report identifies 1,728 Confederate symbols, an increase that reflects new information obtained after government entities, journalists and others re-examined the symbols in their locales. It does not include thousands of markers, monuments or other tributes on or within battlefields, museums, cemeteries and other places that are largely historical in nature.
“We’ve seen a remarkable effort to remove Confederate monuments from the public square, yet the impact has been limited by a strong backlash among many white Southerners who still cling to the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ and the revisionist history that these monuments represent,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said in a statement.
The SPLC said the 110 removals since the Charleston attack include 47 monuments and four flags, and name changes for 37 schools, seven parks, three buildings and seven roads. Eighty-two removals were in former Confederate states.
This spring, the Alabama Legislature enacted the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which requires local governments to obtain state permission before moving or renaming historically significant buildings and monuments that date back 40 years or more. The sponsor of that bill, State Sen. Gerald Allen, was awarded the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ highest civilian honor for his effort.
Inscribed on the base of the new statue in Spanish Fort is a quote from Tacitus: “So as you go into battle, remember your ancestors and remember your descendants.”
DuPree offered his own Tacitus quote in response to further questions about the current climate of monument destruction: “And so one is all the more inclined to laugh at the stupidity of men who suppose that the despotism of the present can actually efface the remembrances of the next generation. On the contrary, the persecution of genius fosters its influence.”
In addition to its maintenance of Fort McDermott, Camp 11 also maintains Confederate Rest Cemetery in Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, and hosts the Lee-Jackson Salute each January and observances of Confederate Memorial Day each April. Camp 11 also maintains the Admiral Raphael Semmes statue at the intersection of Royal and Government Streets downtown, and restored a memorial plaque for the H.L. Hunley submarine near the site of its construction on the Mobile River.
A historical plaque on the Fort McDermott site declares, “Here 200 soldiers from Georgia, Louisiana and Arkansas held off a numerically superior Union force for thirteen days and nights in the last battle of the War Between the States, April 1865.” After a brief tour of the site, DuPree expressed why it remains notable.
“To me, whomever you wish to see as the promoter of your interests, if you see them exhibiting valor, I think it’s good to emulate them,” he said, stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the organization. “I would like people to know how remarkable was the courage of these people. If you think of 195 Confederate soldiers here who held their ground for two weeks against 20,000 northern troops — they didn’t turn around and run. It’s an important message.”
Photo | Lagniappe
The Admiral Raphael Semmes Camp 11 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans dedicated a new Confederate veteran’s memorial in Spanish Fort last weekend.