The future of a 98-year-old granite fountain built as a memorial to the Confederate soldiers who died in war may take shape Wednesday when Helena city commissioners meet.
The commission’s 4 p.m. administrative meeting on the third floor of the City-County Building comes in the wake of a commission discussion in late June about the fountain’s place in the community and a subsequent proposal by Commissioner Andres Haladay where he sought commission support to ask the City-County Parks Board to rededicate it.
This Confederate memorial in Hill Park was placed there in September 1916, the same year the park was created. It has been under the microscope since last month’s slaying of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dylann Roof, who was photographed with the Confederate flag, was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury, online news sources say, on nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
In a bid to defuse some of the opposition to the proposal to rename the fountain, Commissioner Katherine Haque-Hausrath responded to correspondence from Pam Attardo, the Helena/Lewis and Clark County historic preservation officer, to say the proposal by her and Haladay never including removing the fountain’s inscription or touching the fountain.
“I know that constituents and visitors to Helena have expressed concern to me about Helena having a Confederate memorial,” Haque-Hausrath wrote on July 7.
“Confederate symbols are being widely acknowledged to stand for racism and white supremacy. The fact that we have a Confederate memorial, combined with Montana’s unfortunate history of white supremacist groups, gives the inaccurate perception that our city is not open and welcoming.”
“We think our proposal will maintain the historical integrity of the fountain, honor all of the Civil War dead, while not having the government support a publicly owned Confederate symbol. As is being discussed across the country, we do not believe an explicitly Confederate memorial and its attendant support for slavery and more recent symbol for white supremacy and exclusion of minorities, is appropriate for our city,” her letter stated.
Haladay on Tuesday also wrote to the commission to suggest the fountain be rededicated as a Civil War Veterans Fountain and that city staff create language for plaques to address both the historical aspects and the commission’s decision to rededicate the monument to all veterans who chose to call Montana their home after the Civil War.
The historical aspects of the fountain that Haladay proposed to address are both the reconciliation and relations between the former enemies during the Civil War who came to Montana and the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s motivations for the monument.
Helena Mayor Jim Smith wrote the city commission to say he will be unable to attend the administrative meeting and that he would prefer that the elected city commission rather than a volunteer advisory board handle any renaming of the fountain.
He suggested in his July 6 letter that a commission resolution be prepared with an accompanying public hearing for the process.
The mayor said he also didn’t support renaming the fountain nor, as some have suggested, razing it, he added.
All traces of the Romanov dynasty and the czars were removed after the Russian Revolution, Smith stated.
The same thing happened in China during the Cultural Revolution, he continued, and that this is happening today in the Middle East and Central Asia where all traces of Buddhist and Hindu cultures are being destroyed.
He also noted that Helena's Jefferson Elementary School, as well as Jackson Street and the Helena streets named after George Washington, are all named after prominent slave owners.
“Once this begins -- with a fountain in Hill Park -- where will it lead and where will it end?” the mayor asked in his letter that instead called for a community conversation about racism in America, Montana or Helena.
While Columbus Day, a federal holiday, will be observed Oct. 12, a suggestion has been made to proclaim it All People’s Day or Indigenous People’s Day in Helena and plan events around that, much like what is done for Martin Luther King Day each January, the mayor stated in his letter.
“I’ve been meaning to ask my fellow city commissioners about this idea for a while now,” Smith added.