Restored monument honors Confederacy

Riley says at ceremony that Southern soldiers left `lasting legacy of patriotism’
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
News staff writer

MONTGOMERY – Gov. Bob Riley, the descendant of a Confederate soldier captured by Union troops during the Civil War, on Monday praised the patriotism of "our Confederate forefathers."

"These men suffered all, sacrificed all, dared all and died," Riley told about 300 people celebrating the restoration of the 82-foot-tall Confederate Monument that stands on the north side of the Capitol.

"Our Southern forefathers and mothers are proof there was a time when a whole society of people was willing to make great sacrifices, endure unbelievable privations under circumstances too difficult for us to ever fully comprehend," he said.

Organizers moved most of the ceremony indoors to the Capitol auditorium, but the rain outside did little to dampen the cheers, claps and singing of the standing-room-only crowd, some of them reenactors dressed in Confederate gray. A brass band played "Dixie" during the Confederate Memorial Day event, and dozens of people waved Confederate battle flags.

Riley in his speech said most Confederate soldiers fought to protect their homes and newly seceded country. "Most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery," he said.

"Their lasting legacy of patriotism is alive and well today in the South. No other region of the country is more patriotic than the South," Riley said, noting that thousands of Alabamians now serve in Iraq and nearby countries in the service of the United States.

Asked later what he would say about the Confederate Monument to black Alabamians whose ancestors had been slaves, Riley replied, "This is a part of my past. It’s a part of so many people’s past. It’s something we believe we should celebrate, because these people died fighting for what they believed in."

State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, one of Alabama’s veteran black lawmakers, said he has no problem with the monument or with Confederate Memorial Day.

"I believe that whatever history we have, it’s important to stand on it," he said.

But Sanders also said he wished more Americans honored the many thousands of blacks who fought and died for the Union.

David Allen of Tuscaloosa, the Alabama commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, also spoke during the ceremony. "Let us recall that the men we are honoring today fought to preserve their declared independence and to defend their homes from invaders," he said to loud cheers.

"The bodies of patriots are scattered across this land, sometimes far from their homes," Allen said. "The best way to honor them is to preserve their memory and to continue to fight for constitutional government with limited federal powers as written by the founding fathers."

The Alabama Historical Commission last year supervised the cleaning and repair of the granite, limestone and bronze Confederate Monument, which was completed in 1898 to honor Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederacy, laid the cornerstone in 1886.

A $231,600 federal grant paid for the renovation, which was completed in the fall.

Bertram Hayes-Davis, 55, a great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., joined Riley to place a wreath at the monument.

Heather Deese, a 32-year-old homemaker from Grady, said she brought her 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son to the ceremony "to honor my Southern heritage" and her many relatives who fought for the Confederacy.

"They were brave men. They fought under terrible circumstances and they deserve to be honored for that," Deese said.