Madison Common Council met Tuesday to decide the fate of the Confederate monuments in Forest Hills cemetery.
The discussion of whether to keep the monuments began last year when citizens went to the council to advocate the removal of the monuments. The decision has since been sent to various boards throughout the Madison city government, and was sent to the Council to make a final decision.
The Council voted between three different proposals to either keep the larger monument and erect a explanatory sign, divide the large monument into two pieces and keep one in the cemetery and the other in a museum, or to completely remove the larger monument.
Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, proposed a movement on the third amendment option to remove everything and not add any interpretive signs.
“There is plenty of history of Madison which can be learned in a book or from a historian which doesn’t need to come from the monument,” Bidar-Sielaff said.
Bidar-Sielaff also suggested that Camp Randall could serve as the history of the cemetery just in a different spot. She said because there is already similar historical information in that location, it could suffice for both spots.
Also in attendance was various members of the community to express their opinions on the issue. City of Madison resident Leonard Cizewski urged Council members to remove the monuments.
“All confederate monuments represent hate towards African-Americans,” Cizewski said. “The existing monument is a subtle reminder to the Confederate cause, which has nothing to do with honoring the dead buried there.”
Cizewski went on to say that even with an explanatory sign, the Confederate monument represents long-standing racism in the U.S.
Madison resident Kathleen Nickols was also in favor of the removal of any confederate monument in the cemetery. Nickols believes because of the history of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the monuments need to go.
But Madison resident David Blaska believes the monuments are history and should be treated as such.
“The monument in Forest Hill cemetery is almost anti-Confederate,” Blaska said. “It speaks not of unsung heroes or valor, no general rides triumphant on a horse. It merely honors a Madison woman for selflessly attending to the graves of the 140 southern prisoners buried there. No history is rewritten, no subliminal defense of slavery.”
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After taking these opinions into account, Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, suggested an amendment to the proposal to add an explanatory sign to the site.
But many Aldars were opposed to this addition, including Ald. Barbara Harrington-Mckinney, District 1.
“Across the breadth of the U.S., any monuments that romanticize the cruel, unjust and inhumane enslavement of people have been removed. There are no monuments or grave markers of the slaves that died in various places,” Harrington-Mckinney said. “So, I would never wash away the history that happened in the battles, but the Romanization and uplifting of what happened in that period is not OK.”
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The Council then voted to accept the third proposal with the amendment for new signage, and failed in a 5-13 vote. But the Council unanimously voted to accept the third proposal without the amendment.
The Common Council will now go to the Landmarks commission for a plan to take away the monument.
Lavitan believes while this debate was long, it served a good purpose for the community.
“Although the debate at times has often been awkward and uncomfortable, it has reminded us, the living, of the unfinished work which they who fought fifteen decades ago sought to advance,” Lavitan said.