At a meeting Tuesday night, the Madison Common Council is set to take up recommendations about two Confederate monuments in a cemetery on the city’s west side.
The area of Forest Hill Cemetery where the monuments and graves are — known as Confederate Rest — is the burial site of 140 Confederate soldiers and the graves’ long-time caretaker, Alice Waterman.
After two months of careful consideration, members of three city commissions are conflicted about what to do with the larger of the two monuments, a cenotaph with the inscription “Erected in loving memory by United Daughters of Confederacy to Mrs. Alice Whiting Waterman and her ‘boys.'”
The Parks Commission wants to keep the cenotaph where it is, the Landmarks Commission wants to keep it where it is and add an additional sign providing context for the Confederate soldiers’ history, and the Equal Opportunities Commission wants to get rid of the large monument altogether.
Stu Levitan, chair of the city’s Landmarks Commission, said it’s not the language on the large gravemarker that’s in question, but rather the symbolism behind it.
“There’s nothing that says it’s a noble cause. Nothing says they’re unsung heroes. Nothing says there was a valiant effort. The only objectionable words are ‘United Daughters of the Confederacy,'” Levitan said.
In August 2017, the two monuments were vandalized — spray-painted with the words “Good night white pride” — after violence broke out in Charlottesville, Virginia. The next day, Mayor Paul Soglin ordered the removal of the other monument, a small plaque, from the cemetery.
Levitan and his commission are now arguing that the mayor did not follow proper procedure for the plaque’s removal, saying he should have cleared it with them first.
They’re now asking for the city to formally apply for a certificate of appropriateness to make the process complete.
“The justification for not coming to Landmarks could have been that there were exigent circumstances, that there was vandalism, there was graffiti and there was the threat of some untold action,” Levitan said. “So if there’s a health and safety consideration, then the mayor did the right thing.”
Landmarks is now recommending the plaque be offered to the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum and the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
City officials are recommending to the council that the small plaque should not come back to Confederate Rest.
“All three commissions agree the plaque was offensive,” Levitan said. “It referred to unsung heroes and the valiant effort, and there’s nothing valiant about the Confederacy. It was a civil war against the United States in support of slavery.”
He said if the council goes with the recommendations of the Landmarks Commission and Soglin, a sign would be added to Confederate Rest. The city would likely look to a Civil War historian from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to draft the language on that sign.
Soglin previously told News 3 he wanted that sign to detail what he called the “true history” of the organization that funded the installation of the monuments.
“The United Daughters of the Confederacy was part of the whole Jim Crow era, the repression, the continued action by the Southern states to in effect have slavery in another form after the Civil War ended,” he said.
The Common Council is set to take up the recommendations on both monuments Tuesday night.