Defaced Confederate memorial is part of our history 

Monday, February 21, 2005

We talk a lot in this town about diversity and embracing differences.

On Presidents Day, before dashing for holiday markdowns at the mall, we may even rest a beat to reflect on our history.

But if the story of your particular diversity is told in Southern accents — especially if it dares breathe a word about historic roots stretching back to the Confederacy — you’re more apt to get a slug than a hug.

Marjorie Reeves knows that from personal, painful experience.

The Alabama transplant wasn’t all that "Southern," she says, before moving to Seattle in 1998. But the minute she opened her mouth, releasing a soft, subtle Southern cadence, the response was like a slap in the face.

Soon after she arrived, a man on the street asked for directions. Politely she explained she was new in town (Reeves is a woman who always says ma’am and sir). Instantly and obscenely, the man cussed her out.

More times than she’d care to remember, she’s been called a "foreigner" and asked, "What country are you from, anyway?"

So, while it was sickening, it didn’t come as a complete shock when Reeves got a call a week ago from Lakeview Cemetery near Volunteer Park telling her that the 80-year-old Confederate Memorial on the site — the one commemorating Washington state’s Confederate veterans and their wives — had been hack-sawed and vandalized, its bronze art pieces carted away.

The reason the cemetery manager called her is that Reeves is president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee Chapter 885, Seattle, Washington.

Those roots weren’t really an interest of hers until after her move to Washington put her on the defensive. Soon she’d traced her ties back to great-great-grandfather James William Reeves. As a 15-year-old orphan he had joined the 65th K Company in Alabama only to be captured and sent to a prison camp near Chicago.

He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions as a result.

Her great-great-grandfather on her mother’s side, Harrison Milliner, was drafted into the militia in 1864.

It must have taken considerable effort and planning to deface the memorial honoring the Washington confederates of Reeve’s forebears. The cross of honor at its top was 14 feet from the ground, so someone brought a ladder. The disk of Robert E. Lee’s head with crossed rifles was sunk deeply into granite from Stone Mountain, Ga., which arrived here by steamship through the Panama Canal. So was the bronze flag of the Confederacy. No, not the controversial stars and bars battle flag. So someone must have brought tools.

Whatever work it took to destroy was nothing compared with the work and care required to build it.

The first money for the burial plot and memorial was raised at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition here in 1910. In 1911, the plot was bought. In 1922, members donated money for the monument. And on April 11, 1926, as the Temple Chorus sang, Seattle and Tacoma mayors and other dignitaries, including Scott Bullitt of the pioneer Bullitt family and American Legion vets, were on hand to speechify and salute.

They were there to honor bravery. To note the reality of the scar that split this nation, and to celebrate what Seattle Mayor Edwin J. Brown called an event that "cemented America forever."

The attack on the monument was not the first time that cement — or stone — has been reviled or removed.

In 2002, a state representative mounted a campaign to remove a small 63-year-old marker in Blaine designating Highway 99 as the Jefferson Davis Highway, calling the first and only president of the Confederacy "a traitor." The matching marker at the other end of the highway in Vancouver, Wash., has been hidden in a shed ever since.

Reeves repeatedly traveled to Vancouver to get the marker reseated, only to be called names, ignored by officials and insulted by members of the media.

Now this.

"To me, it’s about local history," Reeves told me. "It’s about the people — some of them from the South — who lived and died here and helped to build this state."

She’s praying that someone will help return the bronze artwork. It isn’t worth much of anything on the open market. But it’s worth more than its weight as a tribute to a part of our complex diversity that she believes it is high time we get our arms around.

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