“Some of you may feel like you’re back in school, because what I’m about to do may feel like a history lesson. And if it’s got a title, it’s title is ‘fake monuments, fake history.’”
That’s Paul Soglin in fall 2017, who is now the center of a lawsuit that alleges the former Madison mayor violated state statutes and historic preservation rules when he ordered the removal of two historic monuments honoring Confederate soldiers.
The civil lawsuit, filed at the end of December last year by local attorney Todd Hunter, alleges that Soglin’s move to remove the monuments at Forest Hill Cemetery was “rash, politically-motivated, and dishonest,” and a prelude to Soglin’s run for governor in 2018.
WORT obtained a copy of the complaint, which was filed in Dane County Court in late December 2021. It lists a litany of alleged behavior, including fraud, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of the Wisconsin constitution.
The lawsuit also holds twenty-two current and former members of the Madison Common Council professionally and personally liable for their role in removing the monument, alleging council members attempted to retroactively back up the mayor’s unilateral order to desecrate a cemetery.
The lawsuit was filed by Todd Hunter, a Madison attorney. According to archives of the Wisconsin State Journal, Hunter once ran for Madison mayor against Soglin in 1995, but lost by over 15,000 votes. Neither he, nor Soglin, returned WORT’s request for comment by airtime.
A substantial amount of the 87-page lawsuit focuses on the history of Confederate’s Rest. The monument was placed in the cemetery in 1906 to remember the 140 prisoners of the Civil War who died at Camp Randall.
After the war, local resident Alice Waterman helped to keep up the cemetery. After Waterman’s death in 1897, a push was made by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to place a monument honoring the dead and the work of Mrs Waterman. The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a group of women related to Confederate veterans, who the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a neo-Confederate group.
Meanwhile, the complaint argues that the Southern Poverty Law Center is itself a quote “discredited organization” end quote, accusing the group of libel for misrepresenting the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
A second monument was placed on the grounds in 1981 to commemorate the family of Madison resident William Huggins, whose father fought for the confederacy.
Soglin said in a press conference in 2017 that the monuments were not erected to honor the dead, but to rewrite history.
“The larger monument at Forest Hill Cemetery is not a civil war monument. It was installed over 60 years after the end of the war. It is a slab of propoganda paid for by a racist organization on public property when our city was inattentive to both the new forms of slavery propagated by the donors by the Black Codes, and to the meaning of that despicable fixture honoring slavery. Sedition, and oppression,” Soglin said.
In the summer of 2017, the monuments were vandalized with the slogan “Good Night White Pride.” Shortly after, then Mayor Soglin ordered the removal of the monuments from Forest Hill.
The order for removal led to outrage by Madison residents who saw the monument not as a symbol of hate, but as a tribute to the Confederate prisoners-of-war and the matron who cared for them.
One week after the removal of the monument, in August 2017, Soglin held a press conference to explain his actions.
“First of all, the identity of the soldiers has always been there, the graves have always been respected and remain intact. What is there is a 1931 vicious neo-Confederate monument to racism and white superiority. And the story of the history and importance of that monument is not the Civil War, but the ongoing 100 years of Jim Crow laws and lies about the treason of those southern states,” Soglin said.
It wasn’t until after the press conference that Soglin submitted a resolution to the city council to formally remove the monuments. Although the Landmark Commission argued that the monuments were considered historic sites, the council eventually approved the measure to remove both monuments.
The lawsuit alleges violation of half a dozen state statutes concerning burial sites. And it alleges former Mayor Soglin violated Wisconsin’s historic preservation laws applicable to properties that are listed on registries for protection, locally or nationally. Forest Hill cemetery is listed on both a local registry and the National Register of Historic Places.
The lawsuit calls for city officials to restore the monuments back to their original place at Confederate Rest, and for the city to pay $25,000 to be placed in a trust to preserve the cemetery.
The 1906 monument is currently held at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, which tells WORT that, due to the size of the monument, displaying it is not currently an option. The 1981 monument is currently in possession of the City of Madison
Madison City Attorney Michael Haas told WORT that the city itself has not been served with the lawsuit as of yet, and declined further comment.
Photo courtesy: City of Madison