For years, the East Valley branch of the NAACP fought to remove Confederate monuments throughout the state. Nothing happened.
Fueled by momentum after the August 2017 Charlottesville riots and the toppling of many Confederate monuments throughout the South, East Valley NAACP president Roy M. Tatem, Jr. was hopeful that change would finally be made.
But no. Arizona’s Confederate monuments are not going anywhere.
According to Tatem, the drive to remove these monuments from Arizona state land began in 2015. The group began researching the backstory of a highway named for Confederate President Jefferson Davis and found that five other monuments honoring confederate soldiers also existed in Arizona. There was a confederate memorial in the Southern Arizona Veterans’ Cemetery, a Confederate veterans monument in Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery, a grave of four Confederate soldiers killed at Dragoon Springs. There was also monument honoring Confederate veterans placed in front of the state capitol.
Gov. Doug Ducey refuses to take a stance for or against the removal, says Tatem.
“We realized that we needed to voice our concerns and opinions against the identification or sympathy for the Confederate government,” said Tatem. “(Ducey) left it up to the boards of land and geography and the department of transportation.”
While most of the fighting during the Civil War was done in states that bordered Union and Confederate territory, Arizona was claimed as Confederate territory during the end of the war. Davis ordered a 2,500 man march through Arizona to gain control of the seaports in California. The troops moved through Arizona, destroying Union stockpiles in an attempt to reach California.
Met by Union resistance around what is now Casa Grande, Arizona, there were shots fired. Out of the less than 30 men that participated in the battle, three were killed.
“The firefight lasted some 90 minutes, and 24 men total were engaged, there were 11 casualties,” says former Arizona state historian Marshall Trimble, “If you’re in a firefight like that, that’s a pretty good firefight.”
Today, Picacho Peak State Park, a stretch of desert about 50 miles north of Tucson, features one of the six monuments in Arizona erected to commemorate Confederate soldiers.
“I think a battle is actually a glorification of what happened there, it was a tiny number of people,” said Adam Donaldson, a professor of military history at the University of Arizona.
While the monuments stand to commemorate the lives lost during the Civil War, most were erected during the 20th century at the height of the Civil Rights movement. The dates in which the monuments were put up leads to an argument that the statues hold hidden motives.
“It’s about memory and historical memory, but it’s more people in the 20th century manufacturing certain things about the past,” said Donaldson, “If you look at a monument that is put up in 1961 or 1968, it seems clear that at some level it has to be a response to the movement going on in the country.”
“There is a true organized effort to preserve, currently, the memories and the failure of the Confederacy, and I don’t know why,” said Tatem. “The main reason we wanted to move forward with the removal of these monuments is that many of them were erected in the ’60s, in response to the civil rights movement.”
Tatem says that he had originally hoped that because of the momentum of many Confederate monuments being taken down in the south, the same could be done in Arizona. He found that that was not the case.
“What we found about Arizona is that there’s nothing easy about enacting legislation,” Tatem said. “So we continue to voice our opinions, we continue to lobby, we continue to inform the public, so that hopefully one day we can rid the state entirely of this Confederate memorabilia.”
A petition put out by Tatem and the East Valley NAACP to remove these monuments currently has 586 signatures.
Trimble says that history trumps any type of discomfort that people may have with the Confederate monuments that stand in Arizona.
“This is not an issue for people today to be deciding, these things occurred and America has never been afraid to expose its history, warts and all,” he says.
Brit Reid is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.