Reginald Walton of Black Lives Matter speaks at a press conference on June 5, 2017, at the Arizona Informant, 1301 E. Washington St. in Phoenix. Mark Henle/azcentral.com
Leaders say Confederate symbols inspire and embolden white supremacists.
African-American leaders on Monday urged Gov. Doug Ducey to remove six U.S. Civil War memorials honoring Confederate soldiers, denouncing the state monuments as “tools of terror” and “symbols of racial hatred.”
Representatives of the Maricopa County and East Valley branches of the NAACP, Black Lives Matter-PHX, the Arizona Informant newspaper and religious organizations called for immediate action in a news conference at the newspaper’s Phoenix offices.
“We believe that these monuments have been erected to intimidate, terrorize and strike fear in the hearts of Arizonans, particularly African-Americans, while inspiring and emboldening white supremacists,” East Valley NAACP spokeswoman Collette Watson said.
Ducey must “stand up against these forces of hatred and remove these symbols from public lands in the state of Arizona,” she said.
Tensions related to Confederate memorials and flags have exploded in the two years since a white supremacist killed nine and injured three black members of a Charleston, South Carolina, church. In cities from St. Louis to New Orleans to Baltimore, those who believe the monuments glorify slavery and racism have clashed with others who view them as symbols of Southern history and heritage.
Though Arizona — so far — has avoided the vandalism and violent protests seen in other states, fierce opposition to removing the monuments exists. The Arizona division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization that pays tribute to Confederate soldiers, has promised to fight any removal efforts.
Black leaders nonetheless believe they have national momentum on their side.
“To see Louisiana dismantling their elaborate Confederate monuments…to see Baltimore entertaining removing Confederate monuments, to see South Carolina finally removing the Confederate flag from its state Capitol — we think that our chances are very good,” said Roy Tatem, East Valley NAACP president. “If Arizona wants to be a leader, we believe Arizona will follow suit.”
Demanding more than ‘lip service’
Officials have broached removal of Confederate memorials in Arizona before.
In 2015, for instance, Rep. Reginald Bolding asked that the Jefferson Davis Highway be renamed.
“We called on the governor (two years ago), and what he gave us was lip service,” Bolding, D-Laveen, said Monday. “We hope that we can get action today.”
Patrick Ptak, the governor’s spokesman, told The Republic on Friday that African-American leaders are directing their requests at the wrong official.
Removal or renaming would “fall under the jurisdiction of other entities,” Ptak said, such as the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission or the State Board on Geographic and Historical Names.
Bolding cited both of those bodies as part of the removal process in a letter to Ducey’s office Monday. Bolding dismissed the idea that the governor had no influence, however, implying Ducey was attempting to shirk responsibility.
“Many times at the Legislature and many times in Arizona, we hear the governor take stands on issues that he cares deeply about, whether it’s cutting taxes or whether it’s promoting school vouchers,” Bolding said. “For the governor to try to push the buck to citizens or to push the buck to a board that he appoints is irresponsible.”
The Governor’s Office did not respond to a request for further comment Monday.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., issued a statement Monday afternoon supporting leaders in asking Ducey to “immediately take steps to remove these monuments from our state.”
“The Confederacy is a stain upon American history that should not be celebrated,” Gallego said.
Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Arizona chapter, told The Republic many in the the Muslim community also “stand in solidarity with those who are impacted by having these monuments present.”
He said about one-third of the U.S. Muslim population is African-American.
“The specter of a dark time in American history hangs overhead in many places, and is traumatic for many,” Siddiqi said. “Therefore, we should uplift their voices and concerns.”
Sides at an impasse
The United Daughters of the Confederacy, which helped establish at least two of Arizona’s Confederate memorials, could not be reached for comment.
Curt Tipton, an adjutant with the Arizona division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the national organization “totally opposes” taking down historical monuments of any kind in Arizona.
“That includes Pancho Villa’s statue in Tucson, Geronimo’s marker in Douglas and the many, many more within the state,” he said.
Tipton said removing or relocating Confederate statues “because somebody is offended is ridiculous.” He said the Arizona division will do what it takes to quash any “ludicrous” efforts at the state level, such as African-American leaders’ proposal.
“As our ancestors did not give up, neither will we,” Tipton said.
PREVIOUSLY: Should Arizona dump its Confederate history?
Reginald Walton, a pastor and chair of Black Lives Matter-PHX, described the Sons of Confederate Veterans and similar groups as “misinformed.”
“Those who seceded were…traitors to our country,” Walton said. “To have a monument that honors that is honoring the institution of slavery. It’s honoring terrorism on this land.”
East Valley NAACP President Tatem agreed, saying Arizona “would not tolerate…any commemoration of terrorists in this day and time, so we should not acknowledge and commemorate or deify the Confederate soldiers.”
He said he would consider compromising on the Battle of Picacho Pass monument, erected at Picacho Peak State Park to mark the westernmost battle in the Civil War, after further review of the “historical record.”
“But…to have Jefferson Davis’ name on a public highway here in Arizona is an absolute insult,” he said. “We the NAACP — and the multiple organizations that stand with us — will fight this until we see those names removed from public spaces.”
Arizona Confederate memorials
The Confederacy claimed the lower half of what is now Arizona before it became a U.S. territory or state. More than 300 Confederate soldiers are reportedly buried here.
Arizona has six Confederate memorials.
- Memorial to Arizona Confederate troops, Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, Phoenix.
- Arizona Confederate veterans memorial, Greenwood Cemetery, Phoenix.
- Jefferson Davis Highway, U.S. Highway 60 at Peralta Road, Apache Junction.
- Arizona Confederate veterans memorial, Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Sierra Vista.
- Battle of Picacho Pass monument, Picacho Peak State Park.
- Monument at the four graves of the only Confederate soldiers killed in action in Arizona, Dragoon Springs stagecoach station east of Tucson.??????
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