The Madison City Council supported the removal of a Confederate monument in Forest Hill Cemetery Tuesday night, overturning a decision by the Landmarks Commission.
Last month, the Landmarks Commission denied an application to remove a confederate monument in Forest Hill Cemetery, 1 Speedway Road. Commissioners argued in a 3-1 vote that removing the stone would not follow the city’s historic preservation ordinance.
Newly appointed District 13 Ald. Allen Arntsen requested an appeal of the decision and said removal of the monument “is not detrimental to the public interest and retention of said monument in its present location is contrary to the general welfare of the city of Madison.”
“Our lens is what’s the best public policy for this city,” Arntsen said.
He said removing the monument, which includes the names of 140 Confederate soldiers, would be a step toward inclusiveness and improving racial equity in the city of Madison.
“Removing (the monument) is a step in that direction,” Artnsen said. “This is not inclusive. This is not welcoming. This is not something that draws our city together.”
The City Council voted 16-2 in favor of the appeal. Alds. Paul Skidmore, District 9, and Mike Verveer, District 4, voted against. Alds Rebecca Kemble, District 18, and Steve King, District 7, were not at the meeting.
Skidmore previously called for the City Council to reconsider its vote in April to remove the monument.
"The monument that was put up, the cenotaph, is not a monument to the Confederacy," Skidmore said at the time. "It doesn't extol the virtues of slavery, or racism or the Confederate cause."
The monument considered for removal was installed in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was founded to, among several goals, honor the memory of Confederate soldiers and preserve material for a “truthful history of the War Between the States.”
In April, the City Council approved removing the large stone that is located in an area of the cemetery called Confederate Rest. The monument also recognizes Alice Whiting Waterman, who cared for the graves and was later buried in Confederate Rest in 1897.
“Our past does direct our future and for me, it is a very painful remembrance of our past,” Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, said. “It grieves me that we are struggling as to whether it should be removed or not."
The Landmarks Commission was part of the process because Forest Hill Cemetery is a designated city landmark. Ald. Marsha Rummel, District 6, has been the single vote on the commission opposing granting a certificate of appropriateness for it.
“It is a false sense of historical development when we whitewash history,” Rummel said. “We’re not trying to erase their history, but we’re trying to make repairs, to make reparations from the damage done by this history.”
Landmarks Commission chair Stuart Levitan defended the commission’s decision, explaining, among other reasons, that removing the stone would create a false sense of historical development.
“Confederate Rest is as it was in 1909 when the stone grave markers were installed,” Levitan said.
However, he said he hoped the City Council would find a reason to overturn the Landmarks Commission’s decision.
“There are white supremacists in our federal government and Klansmen in our streets. Things that might have been acceptable before Charlottesville are no longer OK,” Levitan said, referring to the violent 2017 white supremacists rally in Virginia that resulted in one death.
“Rebel soldiers who fought to preserve slavery should have their graves respected, but they are not entitled to a large marble monument in Madison’s cemetery," Levitan said.
Following the Charlottesville incident, Mayor Paul Soglin ordered the removal of a smaller plaque 1981 that was placed outside of the stone walls of Confederate Rest in 1981.