Monday, Apr. 19, 2010

Davis statue to be dedicated

BILOXI — A statue of Jefferson Davis that seemed as orphaned as one of the little boys whose hand he holds in the bronze sculpture has found a permanent home at Beauvoir, the estate where Davis retired.

The life-sized casting of Davis, his 5-year-old son Joe Davis and the other boy of the same age, Jim Limber, will be dedicated Saturday morning during Beauvoir’s Confederate Memorial Day observance. An old-fashion picnic will be followed by a service at the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate.

What sets apart this year’s annual observance — Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday — is the unveiling of the statue that couldn’t find a home. Published reasons often skirted the issue of acknowledging the Confederacy and the fact that the orphaned Limber was born a slave.

Rick Forte Sr., Beauvoir’s acting director since Hurricane Katrina destroyed all but the 1850s antebellum house, is happy at the outcome.

“We think this is the perfect place, and we’ll move it in front of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library after it is completed,” said Forte. “The statue is a connection to history that a lot of people don’t want to believe, that the Davises had good relationships with slaves and blacks.”

During the Civil War, Limber became a ward of the Davis family after Mrs. Varina Davis rescued the orphaned, mixed-race boy from a beating she witnessed on the streets of Richmond.

The Davises said they signed papers to free him from slavery, and Limber lived with the family. In the 1860s, Virginia did not have adoptions, so Limber would be akin to today’s foster child.

The statue was commissioned from Pennsylvania sculptor Gary Casteel in 2008 to commemorate Davis’ 200th birthday. The National Sons of Confederate Veterans paid for it with the intention of placing it in Richmond’s American Civil War Center.

When the center wouldn’t commit to a prominent site within the complex, SCV turned toward Mississippi, where Davis spent his formative years, owned land and served as a U.S. congressman and senator. But this state said no because of a moratorium on new statues on capitol lawns. Now Beauvoir, operated as a museum by the Mississippi SCV, gets Casteel’s artwork.

“As a historical sculptor, historian and SCV member, I feel the location is very appropriate,” said Casteel. “As with all my portrait pieces, I located historical photos of each person.”

The son Joe died in a fall at the Confederate White House. Limber was with Davis when he was captured by the Union in May 1865. Limber disappeared then and Davis’ attempts to locate him after being freed from prison were unsuccessful.

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