Arkansas Historic Preervation
MOVING? Confederate statute outside Jefferson County courthouse.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning
on Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson
's idea to remove a Confederate statue
that stands at the entrance to the Jefferson County courthouse in Pine Bluff. A hubbub is likely to follow, but he's right.
Good thing this article didn't appear a week ago, with legislation pending to usurp
the authority of local government to do just such a thing. The bill failed, but the county judge's threat to move a relic of the cult of the Lost Cause might have mustered still more proponents for the bill. For now, the county judge is only looking at the idea. The newspaper quoted him:
"I think in today's time we're trying to move on, especially when dealing with racial harmony," Robinson said. "I don't think the Confederate statue depicts our country."
Robinson does not dispute the historical significance of the monument, but he said the history reflected by it refers to a time in American history when slavery tore apart the nation and mired it in a civil war that has cast a shadow ever since.
"That's not what this country is about," Robinson said. "We need to move on from it."
Amen. The statue memorializes the fight to preserve slavery. The 20th-century effort to memorialize that fight with statues all over coincided with a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and other concrete illustrations of a desire to hold back black people. Its symbolism is striking at the door of the seat of law for a county that has a majority black population and still bears the marks of centuries of discrimination.
The statue was commissioned and installed at Pine Bluff High School, not the courthouse, in 1910 by the local United Daughters of the Confederacy. A high school building project prompted its move to the courthouse in 1974. It's a tribute, the historical records say, to David O. Dodd,
"boy martyr of the Confederacy." Dodd was hanged as a traitor for spying on Union forces and is the namesake of the UDC chapter that held a tea, bazaar and other fund-raising activities for the statue.
Jefferson County went down this road at least once before. The Pine Bluff Commercial noted
when concerns about Civil War monuments began breaking out nationally, that then-County Judge Jack Jones
appointed a "multi-racial" committee in the 1990s to consider whether the statute should be moved and concluded it should stay in place. Times have changed in Jefferson County, but only recently. It elected its first black county judge in 2016 and Pine Bluff elected its first black mayor that same year. That first judge, Henry Wilkins,
in 2017 was measured in his remarks about the statue. He said he'd heard concerns about it,
but said he'd want to discuss the issue before talking about removal. He also acknowledged it was a historic monument and should be preserved, perhaps in a museum. His tenure was cut short by involvement in a bribery investigation related to his time as a state legislator.
Here's the history of the monument compiled
for its inclusion in the national registry of historic places.
I'm with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his memorable explanation
of the removal of Confederate statuary in his city. A government of and by and for all the people should be careful in how it displays tributes to the fight for slavery. The fierce effort to preserve such memorials speaks even more loudly than the piles of marble themselves. Look to the modern-day "South's defenders" in the legislature and other public offices and see what I mean. You won't find many ardent champions of the poor and disenfranchised and minorities among them.