An advisory panel plans more work before it will have recommended language for a sign to accompany Helena’s Confederate memorial fountain in Hill Park.
While draft language was offered for review at Tuesday night’s Lewis and Clark County Heritage Tourism Council meeting, two members of the council volunteered to add to the language.
Council member Hal Jacobson favored a strong statement while Mary Jane Bradbury wanted language that would allow a reader to reflect on the South of that day.
Donna Torgerson, also a member of the council, advocated for more neutral language that stated the facts of the time.
She cautioned that a strong statement on the antebellum South would not resolve but expand the debate.
Settling the debate, she explained, shouldn’t be the tourism council’s concern, and it should instead focus on the issue of the fountain.
The Confederate fountain came into prominence recently after the June 17 shooting of nine black men and women attending a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, 21, was photographed with the Confederate flag and his website contained a racist manifesto believed to have been written by him.
Helena’s granite fountain, dedicated in 1916 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, has been the subject of local debate since the shooting.
Commissioner Andres Haladay wrote to the city commission in response to the shooting and said if the goal is to honor those who died in the Civil War, the fountain could be renamed and “would be a more meaningful memorial than a one-sided celebration of revisionist history.”
City commissioners asked the Lewis and Clark County Heritage Tourism Council for a recommendation on language for a sign to accompany the fountain.
The tourism council began its work a month ago, and on Tuesday Pam Attardo, the Helena/Lewis and Clark County heritage preservation officer, offered language based on her research.
While noting it would be too lengthy for a sign, she said the National Register of Historic Places may provide a sign that could contain some of the information she assembled.
Another sign could also address issues the tourism council wanted to recommend to the city commission, which will decide what signage and language accompanies the fountain.
Attardo’s draft language, which noted the fountain’s inscription, “A Loving Tribute to Our Confederate Soldiers,” said the United Daughters of the Confederacy was founded in 1894. Its roots were in local ladies memorial associations formed in several Southern municipalities shortly after the Civil War to bury Confederate dead.
Confederate soldiers who died in the war were not allowed to be buried with Union soldiers in national cemeteries that had been established by the federal government.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy’s mission, Attardo wrote, evolved to encompass memorials to Confederate soldiers, which served as much more than just memorials to the dead.
“They were a crucial component in the UDOC’s campaign to restore honor to defeated Confederate veterans and in the South’s quest for vindication after the Civil War that their cause was just, their defeat was not in vain, and that their soldiers were not traitors or rebels.”
After most Confederate veterans had died, the Daughters of the Confederacy shifted to placing pro-Southern history textbooks in schools across the South.
These textbooks, Attardo continued, promoted the Lost Cause view of the Civil War that said the South was outnumbered and outgunned by soldiers and factories in the North and the war was fought primarily over the constitutional issue of states’ rights rather than slavery.
The Daughters of the Confederacy supported the early Ku Klux Klan and its mission of white supremacy, according to Attardo’s research.
“The UDOC’s mission of restoring honor and vindication of Confederate soldiers lasted up until World War I, when Southern soldiers’ contributions in the Spanish-American War and WWI established their heroism and honor in the eyes of the nation,” Attardo’s language stated.
She concluded the draft language by writing “the City in no way endorses any of the former or current beliefs of the UDOC or any of its chapters.”
Jim and Barb Benish, who said they are part of the YWCA’s social justice committee, said the Daughters of the Confederacy should be viewed as a secret society that did not want to publicly state its goals or actions.
Jim Benish suggested a plaque accompanying the fountain note the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance as reason why the city does not support the fountain.
“If this was a fascist memorial that said we don’t like Jews, would we leave it?” he asked.
“They weren’t honored fallen heroes,” Jim Benish said.
They were traitors and rebels, he said, adding “they were not fallen comrades.”