The Madison Landmarks Commission will make a recommendation on what should happen to a large monument in Forest Hills Cemetery tonight. The United Daughters of the Confederacy put the monument there in 1906, and it remembers confederate soldiers buried in a portion of the cemetery known as Confederate Rest. After many quiet years in the cemetery, it has been the subject of controversy for months now.
The Madison Landmarks Commission will be the last of three city commissions to submit a recommendation on the future of the confederate monument. Landmarks Commission Chair Stu Levitan says he can’t predict how the commission will vote tonight.
“I don’t want to presume that my position will necessarily carry,” Levitan says, “but what I hope happens is that we vote to retain the large monument but relocate it to a more appropriate place within Confederate Rest, and then install an interpretive sign explaining why there is a confederate cemetery in Madison and some of the more recent controversy.”
Levitan and Mayor Paul Soglin are on the same page about the monuments. Both want the United Daughters of the Confederacy monument to remain in the cemetery, accompanied by a new sign giving historical and contemporary context. Soglin ordered the removal of a small plaque outside Confederate Rest last year, following backlash to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked by the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.
So far, the Madison Parks Commission has recommended that the monument remain, while the Equal Opportunities Commission has recommended its removal. Alder Rebecca Kemble sits on the Madison Common Council and the Equal Opportunities Commission.
She says, “I voted for the two motions that we passed at the Equal Opportunities Commission one said to remove the existing monument and give it to the Wisconsin Historical Society for storage, and we recommended not to put up an additional marker.”
Levitan disagrees with the Equal Opportunities Commission’s stance, saying he interprets the monument’s significance differently. “The Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t even include this monument in its list of confederate monuments and symbols. It’s a grave marker. You can honor the dead without honoring the cause they fought for.
As Kemble explains, those opposing the monument do not see more than one way of interpreting its message. “The Equal Opportunities commission felt like duplicating the names of the people buried in that plot did equal a glorification of the cause, and the monument itself. Monuments are a glorifying thing, and names on the headstones should suffice.”
Following tonight’s results, Madison Common Council will consider the recommendations of all three commissions, as well as public opinion and debate among alders, before ultimately deciding what to do with the monument. Kemble says she has no prediction of what the decision will be.
Christian Phelps reported this story for WORT News.
WORT News originally reported on this story in August, 2017. You can listen to that report here.