On Tuesday, Madison’s city council voted to remove a gravestone marked with the names of 140 Confederate prisoners of war who died at Camp Randall during the Civil War.
Proponents of the marker’s removal at Forest Hill cemetery say it represents a racist period of American history. Opponents on the other hand, say that the gravestone does not represent slavery but the lives of soldiers who fought for the South. Some also called for a sign to be placed next to the gravestone to explain its historical significance.
Alder David Ahrens offered an alternative route, supported by the city’s Landmark Commission and Board of Parks Commissioners.
Ahren’s amendment called for an educational sign to be placed next to the gravestone explaining its history.
The vote comes amid national tensions over memorials that commemorate the Confederacy. The issue came to a climax in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, when violent clashes broke out between groups after the city called for a Confederate statue to be removed.
Landmarks Commission Chair Stu Levitan advocated for the marker to stay in place. “It was put in with the blessing and the participation of the grand army of the republic… So we felt that, plus the fact that it was not listed as a lost cause monument by the Southern Poverty Law center meant that it was essentially a grave marker.”
The Equal Opportunities Commission, however, called for the gravestone to be removed. They argued that the memorial commemorates an era of American history that upheld the racist institution of slavery.
Alder Barbara Harrington-McKinney voted against the sign and the gravestone last night. “When I think of the countless number of slaves that were killed, there was no monument, there was no marker, there was no headstone, and no signs saying who died here. And so, in my opinion we could never wash away the history of what happened during that bloody battle between the North and the South.”
Alder Shiva Bidar had issue with the precedent the explanatory sign might make noting that there aren’t signs at other landmarks that could benefit from them.
The Council rejected the amendment to put up an explanatory sign, 13 to five.
During the Civil War, the Union used Camp Randall as a camp for 12,000 Confederate prisoners.
140 prisoners died during their stay and were buried in a mass grave at Forest Hill Cemetery. The group The United Daughters of the Confederacy later marked the grave with a gravestone. Part of the group’s mission is to commemorate Confederate soldiers.
Following the Charlottesville brawl, Mayor Paul Soglin ordered the immediate removal of a small plaque from 1981 located near the gravestone.
Per the City Council’s resolution, both the gravestone and plaque will be donated to the State Historical Society or the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial.
Jackson Danbeck reported on this story for WORT News.