The Madison City Council Landmarks Commission passed motions Monday recommending the retention of a Confederate cenotaph and retroactively approving the removal of a Forest Hill Cemetery plaque.
In a vote of 7-1, the committee passed a motion that recommended the cenotaph — a tomblike monument which commemorates people buried elsewhere — should be retained within the grave site. The monument includes the names of 140 Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
The cenotaph became a source of controversy after a far-right rally over Confederate monuments in Charlottesville last August. Members of white nationalist movements attended the rally, which opposed the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. In the aftermath, many cities have moved to eradicate civil war monuments on government property.
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Stuart Levitan, Landmarks Commission chair, supported the motion to retain the cenotaph. Levitan said that the site does not qualify as a Confederate monument because the site was a cenotaph. Levitan also pointed out the Southern Poverty Law Center did not consider the site a Confederate monument.
Levitan also mentioned Grand Army of the Republic soldiers paid tribute to the monument.
“The guys who actually took up arms to put down the rebellion participated in the rededication ceremony,” said Levitan. “That’s meaningful to me.”
Ald. Marsha Rummel, District 6, who gave the sole vote against the motion, said the monument perpetuated an attempt to manipulate the Civil War’s history. The United Daughters of the Confederacy created the monument and the group is responsible for the creation of many of the country’s Confederate monuments. It is considered a neo-Confederate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I still see it as part of a bigger whole,” said Rummel. “It didn’t come with this cemetery, it came with a Jim Crow era of whitewashing history.”
The commission also approved a motion approving the removal of a plaque at the cemetery. Currently, the plaque refers to the buried soldiers “valiant Confederate soldiers” and “unsung heroes.”
The commission passed a motion commissioning an interpretive display to explain the history of the site as well as the recent controversy surrounding it.
The plaque will be donated to either the Wisconsin Historical Society or the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
The approved motions will now move to the Madison City Council, which will vote on the resolutions at their April 10th meeting.