Arizona’s first Capitol monument was to Confederate troops. Why?




Photo by Ken Lund | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Arizona Department of Administration is looking into what kind of process may be needed to remove a monument to Confederate soldiers at the state Capitol, but state law leaves the decision up to the agency’s director, and, by inference, his boss, Gov. Doug Ducey.

For years, critics have sought to have the monument removed from the Capitol. Crowds of people protesting the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer in late May, thronged around the monument, demanding its removal

And on Friday, a man threw red paint on the memorial in protest.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in a June 8 letter publicly called on ADOA Director Andy Tobin to move the monument from Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. She wants Tobin to transfer the monument to the Arizona Capitol Museum, which her office oversees, so she can put it into storage.

But Ducey has no plans to act. He isn’t “a fan of removing monuments or memorials, and certainly not because a letter was written,” he told reporters this month. Instead, he said there should be a public process if the monument is going to be moved, and noted that there was a public process that allowed monuments to be built and placed on state land in the first place. That, he said, is something his administration will have to work on with legislative leadership.

Whatever public process existed for erecting, altering or removing monuments ceased to exist in 2018, when lawmakers and Ducey eliminated the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission. That commission, which the legislature created in 1985, was responsible for reviewing and approving plans for monuments on the Capitol Mall. Legislative approval was required before a proposed monument could go before the commission.

Now, once the legislature has approved a new monument, all authority resides with the Department of Administration, as does all authority over proposed changes. That includes the power to remove a monument from Wesley Bolin Plaza.

Until 2018, the mall commission had to review and approve the removal or relocation of monuments before the Department of Administration could act on such proposals. ADOA has sole authority to make those decisions. In her letter to Tobin, Hobbs cited that statute, which says, “The department of administration may relocate monuments or memorials that are located in the governmental mall.”

Megan Rose, a spokeswoman for ADOA, said the agency is reviewing what process is needed for a monument to be removed.

Under the old scheme, removing a monument would have required a vote by the governmental mall commission, said Barry Aarons, a lobbyist who served on the commission. From there, the matter would go to ADOA, which would make a final decision “with significant influence” from the governor’s office.

Under the current system, Aarons said the entire process rests with ADOA, with the governor presumably making the final call.

“I think a decision like that, whether he wants it to or not, kind of resides in the governor’s lap right now,” Aarons said.

And despite Ducey’s declaration otherwise, there appears to have been little or no public process for putting up the Confederate monument in the first place.

Monument honors Confederate troops who died for ‘principles of democratic government’

The historical record regarding the first monument erected at the state Capitol is sparse. Planning for the monument garnered no news coverage, and it wasn’t mentioned in the pages of The Arizona Republic, the state’s newspaper of record, until the day before its unveiling on statehood day on Feb. 14, 1962.

In its Feb. 13, 1962, edition, the Republic reported that president of the Arizona division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Mrs. Leo J. Gatlin—press coverage did not mention Gatlin’s first name—would preside over the monument’s dedication the following day, and that then-Secretary of State Wesley Bolin would speak at the ceremony. 

A photo in the Feb. 17 edition of the paper showed Gatlin and two other members of her organization posing in front of the monument wearing Civil War-era dress. The photo caption states that the monument, shaped like Arizona and made of copper and green-hued stone, cost $1,000, raised through voluntary contributions. 

The monument was dedicated to Confederate troops who fought in the Battle of Picacho Pass, the westernmost battle of the Civil War and the only battle to take place in what is now the state of Arizona. An inscription at the bottom on the monument reads, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.”

There is no record of the speech Bolin gave for the monument’s dedication. The Republic didn’t report his words, and the Secretary of State’s Office said there’s no copy of his speech in the state library and archives. 

A proclamation that then-Gov. Paul Fannin issued for the monument’s dedication states that it was erected to honor Arizona’s Confederate troops during the Civil War, “who willingly gave their lives in defense of those principles of democratic government in which they believed; and may it ever stand as a memorial in honor of them and a reminder to us that the freedoms we enjoy were purchased and delivered to us at the cost of lives of others and that ‘a nation that forgets its past has no future.’”

Neither the proclamation nor the monument mention the reason why the Confederate States of America seceded from the Union in the first place: to preserve and perpetuate slavery, an institution they believed faced an existential threat from the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. 

At the time the monument went up, authority over the Capitol grounds rested with the Department of Public Buildings Maintenance, which the legislature created in 1960. The duties of the department’s superintendent included the “maintenance, alteration and renovation of the existing capitol buildings and grounds.” 

Legislative records from the late 1950s and early 1960s show no vote to approve or authorize the monument, which was initially located in front of the Senate. State law now requires legislative approval before any monument can be placed at the Capitol, but that law wasn’t added to the books until 1995.

Had there been a public process surrounding the monument, it likely would have generated little or no opposition, said Jon Talton, a Phoenix historian and former Republic columnist. 

While Confederate monuments today are controversial and deeply offensive to many Americans, particularly Black Americans descended from slaves, Talton said they simply weren’t a flash point in the 1960s. Black leaders and the city’s Back population were largely focused on other issues.

“Black preachers and business leaders were relatively more prominent then, the Black population (I think) proportionately larger. Their emphasis was voting, better housing and schools, and more elective office,” Talton told Arizona Mirror.

When the monument went up, the civil rights movement in the United States was nearing its crescendo. That generated a lot of backlash among opponents, especially in the South, where white leaders clung to the Jim Crow laws that mandated strict segregation and white supremacy. As part of that backlash, civil rights foes across the country erected statues and monuments glorifying the Confederacy and its leaders

Though Arizona was a far cry from the Southern states, with their rigidly and often violently enforced white supremacy, it still had plenty of segregation and racism. Segregation in public accommodations was commonplace. Schools were segregated into the 1950s, with the state moving to end official segregation policies shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v Board of Education in 1954. Demonstrators marched against segregation in public accommodations and protested at the Capitol, near the Confederate monument that had only recently been installed. 

Talton said he does not believe Arizona’s Confederate monument was part of the civil rights backlash that erupted in other parts of the country. While the first half of the 1960s represented the height of the civil rights movement, it was also the centennial anniversary of the Civil War, fought from 1861-65.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy said at the time that the monument was timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of when the southern half of what was then the New Mexico Territory—modern-day Arizona, New Mexico and southern Nevada—was declared a Confederate territory. The 100th anniversary of that declaration by Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also the 50th anniversary of Arizona’s statehood.

Battle of Picacho Peak
Photo by Tony the Marine | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Arizona’s status as a Confederate territory resulted in the Battle of Picacho Pass. The battle on April 15, 1862, pitted 12 Union troops and one scout against 10 Confederates soldiers who were guarding the pass near Picacho Peak. One Union soldier died and four were wounded, while three Confederate soldiers were captured. Ultimately, the Union troops retreated, allowing their Confederate counterparts to withdraw back to Tucson, the capital of the western half of the Confederate territory.

According to a 2019 thesis by Kaitlyn Burnham, an Arizona State University graduate student, the Confederate memorial was one of three monuments placed at the Capitol before the idea of a plaza came to fruition. The Confederate monument was the first of the three, followed by the Ten Commandments Memorial in 1964 and the Pioneer Women Memorial in 1968.

The monument later moved to Wesley Bolin Plaza. At the request of then-Gov. Raul Castro, the legislature in 1975 approved plans for space that would house the state’s various monuments. Three years later, it was named in honor of Bolin, who died in March 1978, several months after becoming governor.