Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Aug. 9, 2022

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Jefferson Davis memorial debate draws a crowd for meeting

Markers along Interstate 5 outside of Ridgefield may be dropped from historical site list

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
3 Photos
Matthew Farver of Vancouver speaks at Tuesday’s Clark County Historical Preservation Commission meeting, in which commissioners voted to hold a public hearing about removing the Jefferson Davis Highway Markers from the county’s historical register. Farver was one of roughly 50 people to come out for the meeting, and all who spoke during public comment said they want the monuments removed from the register.
Matthew Farver of Vancouver speaks at Tuesday’s Clark County Historical Preservation Commission meeting, in which commissioners voted to hold a public hearing about removing the Jefferson Davis Highway Markers from the county’s historical register. Farver was one of roughly 50 people to come out for the meeting, and all who spoke during public comment said they want the monuments removed from the register. Andy Bao/The Columbian Photo Gallery

The conference room at the O.O. Howard House has a capacity of 50 people, but the Clark County Historical Preservation Commission never uses that many chairs. On Tuesday night, the group almost needed a larger room for the first time anyone could remember. 

The packed crowd was there because the commission was going to discuss the old Jefferson Davis Highway markers, now located at Jefferson Davis Park  along Interstate 5 outside of Ridgefield. 

“Sometimes we get two or three people (at our meetings),” said Robert Hinds, chairman of the commission. “Usually, it’s just us.”

Throughout the meeting, the commissioners thanked the crowd for coming out to voice their opinion and take an interest in history, even if there’s not much the commission can do when it comes to the monuments. Since the monuments are on private property, the commissioners can’t take them down. But they can remove the monuments from the official Clark County Heritage Register. They were added to the register in 2002.

The board unanimously voted to hold a public hearing on the issue, leading to a round of applause by those in attendance. 

“That’s a first,” one commissioner said after the applause died down. 

The public hearing will likely be held at the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 3. Jacqui Kamp, a Clark County planner who serves as staff for the commission, said she needs to work on finding a larger room. Kamp, who has worked with the commission since 2007, said she’s not aware of any instance in which the commission discussed removing an item from the historical register, which is simply a list of historical sites in Clark County.

The public hearing will likely draw an even larger crowd, as many who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting said they will be bringing others.

Representatives from local organizations, such as Black Lives Matter Vancouver, Vancouver NAACP, Indivisible Greater Vancouver, People Power and SURJ Clark County, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“In this day and age, with all the racial tension in our country, for Clark County to have it on their register is inappropriate,” said Cecelia Towner of Black Lives Matter Vancouver. “As we try to welcome more diversity into the county, more cultural competency would make the county more welcoming.”

While some of the crowd left after the commission voted to hold the public hearing, more than half of the crowd stayed until the end of the meeting to speak during the public comment portion. Sixteen people got up to speak, and all wanted the county to remove the highway marker from the historical register.

NAACP Vancouver President Bridgette Fahnbulleh talked about the Confederacy’s connection to slavery and how that shouldn’t be celebrated.

“No honor is given,” she said. “No memorial is needed.”

Throughout the meeting, speakers called the monuments “disgusting,” “toxic” and “an abomination.” Others talked about how seeing the monuments makes them feel isolated or not welcome in Clark County.

“It’s jarring to see it,” said Enshané Nomoto of Vancouver. “It has me rethinking moving here. It’s gotten my wheels turning.”

The commissioners repeatedly said throughout the night that all they can do is remove the monuments from the county’s historical register. They can’t take them down, since they sit on private property. Those who spoke Tuesday said they felt it was important to remove the markers from the county’s website.

“Perception is reality,” said Howard Rubenstein of Ridgefield. “Having this listed publicly, it says that the people of this community accept this in some way.”

The markers have come under scrutiny recently, along with many Confederate monuments in the U.S., after Heather Heyer was killed Aug. 12 by a motorist who drove a car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Overnight on Aug. 17, the Ridgefield markers were defaced, reportedly by a group from Portland. 

History of site

The quarter-acre Jefferson Davis Park was dedicated in 2007 and contains flagpoles and two stone markers for “Jefferson Davis Highway 99.” One marked the south end of the route in Vancouver, while the other was on the north end in Blaine. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy launched an effort to designate a route across the South as “The Jefferson Davis Highway,” and later wanted to extend the designation up the West Coast to Canada. 

The markers ended up at the current site about a decade ago after turmoil in Vancouver. One of the markers was dedicated near Covington House in 1939 and remained there until former City Manager Vernon Stoner, at the urging of then-Councilman Jim Moeller, had it removed and placed in storage in May 1998. In 2002, Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, unaware the marker was gone, launched a campaign for both the Vancouver marker and the one in Blaine to be removed. After much discussion, the city council voted to place it at the Clark County Historical Museum. Ownership of the monument reverted to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The marker was moved from the museum in 2006 due to a construction project, and the Daughters were asked to find a new home for it. It was moved to the private property in 2007, and a nonprofit, the Jefferson Davis Park, was formed to maintain the site.

After the monuments were defaced, members of the organization that maintains the site said they have no plans to remove the monuments

Columbian Staff Writer

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