Confederate flag flies over park near Ridgefield
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
By SCOTT HEWITT, Columbian staff writer
RIDGEFIELD — Add another attention grabber to the stretch of Interstate 5 north from Vancouver.
Sure, the Trojan nuclear cooling tower is gone. But the Uncle Sam billboard that’s been trumpeting right-wing messages for decades lives on. There’s Gospodor Monument Park, where statues atop steel-pipe towers memorialize Jesus, Chief Seattle, Mother Teresa and victims of the Holocaust. Closer to home, there’s the palatial Seventh-day Adventist Church headquarters in Ridgefield.
Now add to all that grandiosity two modest flags standing side by side in a tiny private park just south of Ridgefield, on the west side of the freeway, just south of the Gee Creek rest area.
One is the American flag. The other is a Confederate flag that’s sure to cause double takes.
It’s not the standard stars-and-bars we’ve all seen, although it includes that symbol in the upper left-hand corner of a white field with a red right-hand border. It’s what’s known as the Third National Flag of the Confederacy; apparently the red stripe on the right was to prevent the white field from being misunderstood as a flag of truce or surrender. The flag was adopted in March 1865 — just before the fall of the Confederacy and the end of the Civil War.
Last month, the flag joined a storied Jefferson Davis marker in a quarter-acre roadside park created by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
That was in time for an April 27 dedication and grand opening ceremony at the park.
“We had the president general of the UDC fly out, and there were quite a few people,” said spokesman Brent Jacobs of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “Somewhere between 80 and 90. We had a really good time. Not too many members of the public came, though.”
But truckers driving by on the freeway tooted, he said, and all e-mail he’s received through the Web site, www.jeffersondavispark.org, has been positive.
“I’m sure we’ll get some negative, though,” he said.
The Confederate flag has remained an intensely controversial reminder of the stain of slavery and the war that nearly tore this country in two. But Jacobs is quick to say he’s not glorifying slavery, or racism, or secession.
“We are not still fighting that war, and we’re not perpetuating any racial issues,” he said. “We’re just everyday folks who happen to have great-great grandfolks who fought in that war. It’s not political, it’s heritage.”
He said his great-great grandfather, a Missourian, chose to defend his divided state in 1862 against federal troops.
“It was vicious,” Jacobs said. “He was captured and spent two years in military prison.”
Family lore like that is what fuels Jacob’s passion for a Civil War heritage that generally isn’t seen in a positive light.
“History is written by the victors, and anything Confederate is automatically labeled bad,” he said. “We don’t feel ashamed for what our ancestors did. We’re just trying to keep it in context. Why should you hide it?”
Mostly, he’s interested in reminding people about Jefferson Davis, who was a U.S. Congressman, senator and secretary of war before becoming President of the Confederacy. It’s largely forgotten that Davis was a key figure in the westward expansion of the United States via the railway surveys he conducted as secretary of war.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy first conceived of a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in 1913 as a transcontinental road through the South; eventually it came up the West Coast, bringing with it the dedication marker that was set near Vancouver’s Covington House in 1939.
That marker sat quietly for nearly 60 years until suddenly it became a hot potato. In the past decade, the Vancouver City Council removed it, stored it away, exhumed it, placed it near the Clark County Historical Museum, then handed it over to the Confederacy enthusiasts who bought the quarter-acre parcel now called Jefferson Davis Park.
What’s on tap for the park now? Selling commemorative bricks and fundraising for a picnic table, Jacobs said.