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Thursday, February 29, 2024
After two hours of public comment, Madison officials postponed a vote regarding the fate of two Confederate monuments at Forest Hill Cemetery.

After two hours of public comment, Madison officials postponed a vote regarding the fate of two Confederate monuments at Forest Hill Cemetery.

City officials reach no conclusion after public debate over Confederate monuments

The city’s Landmark, Parks and Equal Opportunities commissions decided to postpone a vote on two Confederate monuments in Forest Hill Cemetery after extensive public comment.

Reconsidering the monuments was brought to light by Mayor Paul Soglin, who ordered the removal of Madison’s Confederate monuments after they were vandalized on Aug. 15. Days after the incident, which itself followed a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, Soglin condemned the monuments in a press release.

“These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for,” he wrote in the release.

But after two hours of public comment, members of the three commissions voted unanimously to adjourn the meeting and refer future debate to the individual commissions.

Many of the citizens who spoke signaled support for the removal of the smaller plaque placed in front of Confederate Rest — the name of the area in the cemetery where the gravestones lie — but did not support Soglin’s proposal to remove all of the markers from the gravesite.

Citizens expressed concerns about a multitude of issues with the complete removal of the larger monument, which bears the names of many of the fallen Confederate soldiers, namely that the removal would dishonor the dead.

“My real concern today is about respect for the dead and how we show that. I worry that what we are using these confederate monuments for is making a statement about our values,” said one public commenter.

The monuments were established in 1906 in part thanks to funding from the United Daughters of the Confederacy which Soglin called, “one of the premier propaganda groups in American history.”

On the organization's website, many of its goals sympathize with the confederacy and its cause. One of the organization’s missions is, “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.”

After the monuments were vandalized, Soglin requested the removal of both monuments, however a lack of equipment were only able to remove the smaller of the two.

The meeting began with presentations from Soglin, followed by officials from Madison’s Parks Commision and members of the Wisconsin Historical Society. In his remarks, the mayor spoke about his decision to act quickly.

“That plaque has no historic value, it violates our cemetery rules, and I believe it should be left to the state historical society,” Soglin said.

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According to a report of the monuments, the options available to the commissions before the meeting were to:

  1. remove them completely
  2. alter the messages on the monuments or
  3. leave the monuments in place while constructing a third monument denouncing the Confederate “lost cause”

Soglin clarified that a third monument meant an “interpretive sign.”

Regan Murray contributed to this story.

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