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Mayor Paul Soglin calls Confederate memorials historical 'lies'

Confederate monument

Mayor Paul Soglin is exploring options for a 1931 memorial to Confederate Civil War soldiers at Forest Hill Cemetery.


In a blistering critique, Mayor Paul Soglin on Monday said the large Confederate memorial at Forest Hill Cemetery is a historical “lie” placed there by a racist organization around 1931 to promote a new form of racism, rather than a monument of the Civil War.

Soglin, who last week ordered the removal of a 1981 plaque at the Confederate Rest section of the West Side cemetery, at a press conference Monday outlined three options for the larger stone monument including:

  • Removing it.
  • Eradicating a section that refers to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization that installed it.
  • Leaving the memorial in place and placing next to it a “more honest monument” that tells the story of how the Daughters of the Confederacy have spread lies about slavery throughout the United States and “continue to do so to this day.” Soglin said this is his preferred option.

The mayor’s actions and comments come amid other steps taken throughout the United States to remove statues and monuments dedicated to the Confederacy after a violent protest Aug. 12 involving neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one person dead and others injured.

The City Council should make the decision on the fate of the 1931 monument, Soglin said. He intends to introduce a resolution to the council on Sept. 5, with referrals to the Landmarks and Park commissions for recommendations. The council would make a final decision at a later date.

Council President Marsha Rummel could not be reached.

A spokesperson for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, based in Richmond, Virginia, could not be reached for comment. The organization’s website describes one of its aims as “to collect and preserve the material necessary for a truthful history of the War Between the States and to protect, preserve, and mark the places made historic by Confederate valor.”

Soglin said he expects other communities to also put a sharper focus on the history of memorials erected decades after the Civil War, which he said came amid efforts to promote white supremacy and the subjugation of blacks through Jim Crow laws or Black Codes.

“What’s happening here in Madison is going to be repeated throughout the United States,” he said, adding that it will be harder in the South where legislatures have prohibited removal of what he called “false idols” without state permission.

The mayor also criticized President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker, calling their responses in the aftermath of the events in Virginia inadequate. “I have no expectations for the president, or for that matter, the governor,” he said.

But Soglin’s focus Monday was offering a historical perspective on the monuments at Forest Hill Cemetery. At the start, he said of his press conference, “If it’s got a title, it’s fake monuments, fake history.”

Starting in April 1862, more than 1,000 captured Confederate soldiers were moved to Camp Randall, and over the following months 139 prisoners died, Soglin said.

In 1931 the United Daughters of the Confederacy, “a racist and bigoted organization,” Soglin said, installed the monument, which names the deceased, honoring “treasonous rebels” as part of a national strategy of propaganda and determination to rewrite history providing a favorable interpretation of the Civil War.

“The larger monument at Madison’s Forest Hill Cemetery is not a Civil War monument,” he said. “It was installed over 60 years after the end of the war. It is slab of propaganda paid for by a racist organization on public property when our city was inattentive to both the new form of slavery propagated by the donors with the Black Codes and to the meaning of that despicable fixture honoring slavery, sedition and oppression.”

In 1981, the memorial plaque at the Confederate Rest section was placed at Forest Hill cemetery. It described the people buried there as “valiant Confederate soldiers” and “unsung heroes.” The privately funded plaque, which rested on a granite structure, said the soldiers were buried in the Union state after surrendering in a battle and dying at Camp Randall as prisoners of war.

Soglin ordered the plaque removed on Aug. 16. The mayor can make that decision through a directive to the parks superintendent, the city attorney’s office said.

After the action, the mayor’s office reported receiving about 100 calls, with most opposed to the removal and a majority from out of the area. There were no specific threats. On Monday, Soglin said the city was reaching out to the Wisconsin Historical Society about a potential place to store or display the plaque.

“We will honor our history. We will respect the dead,” he said. “We make sure that our legacy is to tell the truth and to remove evidence of racist historical revisionism. We will use the story of these monuments to tell the truth about a century of Jim Crow, economic oppression and those like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan who spread their lies far beyond the boundaries of the rebellious states.

“It’s time for education,” he said. “It’s time for people to learn the history of this nation.”


Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.