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Confederate monument overview

Stuart Levitan, chairman of the Madison Landmarks Commission, visits the Confederate Rest section of Forest Hill Cemetery. Members of the city's Equal Opportunity Commission failed to reach agreement Thursday on a recommendation about how to deal with the monuments at the cemetery.


A city committee on Thursday delayed a recommendation on the fate of Confederate monuments at the city-owned Forest Hill Cemetery after members failed to reach an agreement.

Members of the Equal Opportunity Commission couldn’t agree on whether to place a marker at the site to provide historical context or to just remove the one remaining monument.

In August, Mayor Paul Soglin removed a stone and plaque at the entrance to the Confederate Rest area that was placed in 1981. A large stone cenotaph installed in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy remains in the section.

The debate surrounding the monuments was sparked by a protest last August involving white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one person dead and many others injured.

EOC member Zack Madden moved to donate both the plaque and the cenotaph to the Wisconsin Historical Society and place a historical marker at the site that could be decided on by the city’s Landmarks Commission with the historical society.

After the motion failed, commission president Corinda Rainey-Moore put off further discussion of a recommendation to a future meeting.

Most commission members approved of Soglin’s removal of the plaque and favored also removing the cenotaph, but they disagreed on whether to place a historical marker at the site.

During the Civil War, Confederate prisoners were housed for a time at Camp Randall, now the UW-Madison football stadium. Prisoners were moved to Camp Douglass near Chicago after about three months, but 140 Confederate prisoners died at Camp Randall of disease or wounds.

Madden said it’s important to address symbols of the nation’s negative history on publicly owned land. He suggested the marker could mirror the one placed at the federally owned Soldier’s Rest for Union soldiers at Forest Hill.

“I think there does need to be some sort of recognition of what (the site) is, explanation of what it is in a historical context,” Madden said.

EOC vice president Charles McDowell said he was worried the message could be twisted in a way that was not historically accurate because the bigotry that existed when the monuments were originally erected still exists today.

“I don’t want another person putting together some history that they think they want to have on there. Because it’s once again setting up an opportunity to divide,” McDowell said.

The Equal Opportunity, Landmarks and Park commissions will all provide separate recommendations before the City Council approves a decision on the future of the monuments.


Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.

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