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Thursday, September 21, 2023
Sept. 21, 2023

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Owners say Jefferson Davis Park isn’t going anywhere

Monument near Ridgefield named for president of Confederacy

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
3 Photos
Vandals recently damaged a sign at Jefferson Davis Park, a Confederate monument near Ridgefield.
Vandals recently damaged a sign at Jefferson Davis Park, a Confederate monument near Ridgefield. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Recent destruction of memorials to Confederate leaders and causes haven’t deterred the private operators of Jefferson Davis Park, a small memorial visible from Interstate 5 near Ridgefield.

“I don’t understand honoring people that wanted to keep people in slavery,” NAACP Vancouver President Bridgette Fahnbulleh said. “It’s just a matter of who you identify with, and there are people who identify with the Confederacy.”

Marc Anderson, who lives in Ridgefield near the monument, agrees.

“It’s really not in keeping with our heritage here. I don’t really know why we have this in our community,” Anderson said. “It represents a lot of hatred, represents slavery — doesn’t matter how they put it.”

A community conversation about the tribute has repeatedly resurfaced since the park was installed in 2007. In that time, the Sons of Confederate Veterans Pacific NW Division, which owns the 10,019-square-foot property where the monument stands, has remained steadfast.

“I think the people that are upset about this and making demands are in the minority. I think most people just want to live and let live,” SVC Pacific NW Commander Rick Leaumont said. “If you’re offended, don’t look at it.”

The site features two stone markers for “Jefferson Davis Highway 99,” one from Vancouver and the other from Blaine, with metal bars around them for protection. Donated by the United Daughters of the Conferderacy, they were installed at their original sites decades ago. For more than 50 years, the Vancouver marker was displayed near the Covington House on Main Street.

In 1998, the city, at the urging of then-Councilman Jim Moeller, removed the marker and placed it in storage.

Four years later, then-Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, helped lead an effort to permanently remove both markers, once referring to one of the markers as “that racist rock.”

The Vancouver City Council voted, after much discussion, to place Vancouver’s stone at the Clark County Historical Museum, and it was returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s ownership. When the museum underwent a construction project in 2006, the Daughters were asked to find a new home for it.

Now it’s located just south of one of the fastest-growing cities in the state and near the largest West Coast thoroughfare. It’s one of three publicly viewable Confederate symbols in the state, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va, in 2017, Jefferson Davis Park was vandalized on at least three occasions in five months. Leaumont said that SVC Pacific NW has since added additional security measures, which he declined to specify, at the site.

On Monday, despite video cameras surrounding the property, red paint covered part of the sign welcoming visitors, an apparently new act of vandalism that likely occurred sometime in the past few weeks. But Confederate flags still flew from the flagpoles.

An effort in 2017 to remove the monument from the Clark County Heritage Register, led by civil rights organizations including the NAACP, was successful.

Beyond that, local people, governments and organizations who may wish to remove the monument are powerless. The monument is located on private property, and its owners are exercising their First Amendment rights.

“People have a right to do what they want with their own property,” Anderson said. “I just don’t want to see what the (monument) represents.”

A new proposal

On June 30, with protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota continuing, Anderson emailed Leaumont with a proposal.

Rather than a Confederate monument, Anderson wrote, the property could be used to commemorate Navy Pilot Cmdr. Harley H. Hall. Hall, a Vancouver resident, was the final American to be designated a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

His plane was shot down on Jan. 27, 1973, the last day of combat operations during the war. Another pilot reported seeing Hall run from the crash site, but he was never found and is presumed to have died in Vietnamese custody.

“As we all know, change is in the wind in our country and many things we have accepted are now being questioned — and rightly so, in many cases,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson was hopeful after Leaumont said that the organization would consider the proposal. On Sunday, Anderson received a response that left him feeling “very disappointed.”

Leaumont referenced other monuments and statues that have been pulled down by protesters in recent weeks.

“I feel confident in saying that if the park were renamed for Hall, the same people who condemn Jefferson Davis will … demand his memorial be torn down,” Leaumont wrote. “Appeasement to a tyrant such as (Adolf) Hitler, or aggressive political groups demanding destruction of historical monuments to facilitate their rewriting of history or a mob seeking to destroy our culture never works. It only encourages the monster to demand and devour more.”

So barring an unforeseen change, the memorial seems to be in place indefinitely, continuing a long-standing division.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter