PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A monument memorializing the Confederacy’s only president, Jefferson Davis, in Southwest Washington is drawing renewed ire from a local civil rights group amid Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the region and country. The organization that maintains the monument said it is to preserve history, not espouse hate.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Vancouver, Washington branch said it is still troubled by the Jefferson Davis Park located near Ridgefield off of Interstate 5 in what they call a “memorial to the slavery-supporting Confederacy or its leader.”
“The NAACP continues to hear from people concerned about and appalled by this publicly visible installment,” Shareefah Hoover, the chair of the group’s Legal Redress Committee, told KOIN 6 News via email. “Folks are disgusted by the message of racism, division, oppression, and white supremacism that the Confederacy reflects. We unequivocally condemn the display.”
Hoover said the committee may look anew into potential options, such as reaching out to the local jurisdiction in which the park sits and investigating the legal aspects of the park and its display. Hoover said it’s unfortunate that some “seem to continue to try to legitimize or glorify the treasonous Confederacy with divisive eyesores that glorify a reprehensible cause.”
KOIN 6 News reached out to Sons of Confederate Veterans Pacific NW Division, the group that maintains the park, asking if they’ve heard renewed opposition of the park recently and if they’d like to clarify what it’s meant to stand for.
In response, SVC Pacific NW Commander Richard Leaumont, 74, provided a statement via email stating that neither he nor the group represent hate.
“I believe in equality for all under the law, in employment and economic opportunity, in housing, medical care and basically all aspects of life,” Leaumont said. “I am opposed to police brutality and particularly believe George Floyd was murdered and all the officers involved should be held accountable. I believe we should pursue justice whenever anyone is wronged.”
Floyd was an African American man killed in late May by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes and was part of the impetus that sparked nationwide protests that have occurred for the past two weeks.
Upon viewing the park Friday, a KOIN 6 News reporter saw at least two versions of the Confederate flag put up on one pole, alongside an older version of the U.S. flag on another pole. There was faded spray paint that appeared to be old graffiti on one of the mile markers on display at the park.
The park has been located on private property owned by SCV Pacific NW since 2007.
Leaumont said, under the constitution of SVC Pacific NW, that the organization does not embrace, and prohibits the espousal of, racial or religious bigotry. Benevolent, non-political and “patriotic” activities are instead the focus of the fraternal group, such as preservation of history and education about the Civil War.
“Preservation of our history through its documents, buildings, places, monuments and images is […] crucial to our survival as a civilization. We must know where we came from to know where we are and where we are going,” Leaumont said. “Like it or not the history of our Civil War, including both sides and all perspectives, is an indispensible [sic] part. If we persist in destroying our history we are doomed to be orphans in time having no idea where we came from and no anchors to the past to guide our journey into the future.”
In addition, Leaumont said he supports the rights of Black Lives Matter protesters and others who express themselves through gatherings, speech and writing.
“I would defend that right to the death for them and for anyone else. That right includes disagreeing with anyone you want to disagree with but it does not give anyone the right to silence someone else’s First Amendment rights.”
The monument faced instances of vandalism in recent years, getting its flags cut down back in March 2018, which had been the third instance of vandalism within eight months, The Columbian reported. Antifascist protesters claimed responsibility for covering two monuments at the site in tar and paint back in August 2017, a time when the nation’s tensions were at a peak following a violent rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina in which counter-protesters were mowed down by a car during a “Unite the Right Rally” opposing the removal of Confederate monuments across the south, killing one person and injuring many others. In another instance, a group covered over the plaque in honor of Davis with paint and left a threatening note.
Since those instances of vandalism, SCV Pacific NW has reinforced some aspects of the monument and even added security cameras, which for the most part has been a deterrent for vandals, Leaumont said.
Since the protests over the death of George Floyd began, a call for removing Confederate monuments and symbolism has been renewed across the nation. The Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said its statue of Davis in the state’s capitol, adjacent to one of Abraham Lincoln, should be removed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday it’s time for Congressional leaders in both parties to look into removing Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.. The U.S. Navy also announced Tuesday it would ban all public displays of the Confederate flag.
In Richmond, Virginia protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Davis Thursday.
Back in October 2017, the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission voted to remove the Davis monument from the Clark County Heritage Register after previously being classified as historic in 2002.
Before being placed in it’s current location, a highway marker of Davis sat on U.S. Highway 99 in Vancouver. That was an extension of the Jefferson Davis National Highway, which was conceived in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and largely located in the American south, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The marker was removed in the late ’90s and briefly reinstated outside of the Clark County Historical Museum before being placed in its current location on private property near Ridgefield, according to SCV Pacific NW’s website.
Davis, as U.S. Secretary of War before the Civil War, had obtained appropriations and directed surveys for wagon roads and railroads to the North Pacific Coast. According to the FWA, that was used as justification for a monument marking the northwestern terminus of the Jefferson Davis National Highway near Peach Arch in Blaine, Washington. Davis also helped establish what would later become the Smithsonian Institution, Leaumont said.
In addition, Leaumont said SCV Pacific NW is friendly with another historical group, called Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. They are currently working together on a project to uncover lost graves of former Union and Confederate soldiers in the Pacific Northwest, he said.