You've heard that old saying, "The South shall rise again." You'd probably never guess that the South could rise again in the Pacific Northwest. But you'd be wrong.
The Portland Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is constructing a park to honor Jefferson Davis, who helped create the Confederacy and served as its president throughout the Civil War.
The park, on a quarter acre of private property along I-5 just south of Carty Road, will prominently feature a highway marker dedicated to Davis that was placed in Vancouver in 1939. It will most likely also feature three flags – the U.S. flag, the Washington state flag and one of the National Confederacy flags (but not the widely recognized "battle flag").
While the roots of the Confederacy, and its cause, are deeply connected with slavery, and the resulting civil rights abuses in the South, the group's spokesman Brent Jacobs said the Sons of Confederate Veterans are interested only in preserving history. So will Davis' support of slavery and beliefs about Black inferiority be remembered along with his governmental and military achievements? Not likely. Jacobs said he doesn't recall if Davis had many strong opinions about slavery.
In fact, the group's Web site rarely mentions Davis' role in leading the Confederacy and never mentions the issue of slavery, or African Americans for that matter. But Davis did express opinions about slavery, calling it a "moral, political and social blessing."
"[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God ... it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments ... it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts," he once said, according to biographer Dunbar Rowland author of "Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers and Speeches".
In Kenneth C. Davis' book, "Don't Know Much About the Civil War: Everything You Need to Know About America's Greatest Conflict But Never Learned" Davis, after being elected president of the Confederacy, calls African Americans "inferior, fitted expressly for servitude … You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be."
Biographers say that Davis thought of emancipation as a distant goal. During his imprisonment on a charge of treason after the end of the Civil War, Davis sold his estate to Ben Montgomery, one of his family's former slaves. Montgomery was a talented business manager, mechanic and inventor, who had been responsible for overseeing the entire purchasing and shipping operations of the Davis plantation.
Davis did have governmental ties to the Pacific Northwest. According to an article by Karen Meador, posted on the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Web site, Davis argued for expansion and settlement into the Pacific Northwest territories when he served as congressman, senator and secretary of war. His passion for the area might have been sparked because Davis was stationed here with the Army after graduating West Point in 1828. His advocacy and support for mail service, army roads, railway surveys and other support structure for Pacific Northwest would have all taken place before he separated himself from the Union, subsequently losing his United States citizenship, never to be regained in his lifetime.
The Vancouver Jefferson Davis monument was placed in Vancouver in 1939 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was removed by the city council in the late 1990s, placed temporarily at the Clark County Historical Commission, and is now in private hands.
Vancouver NAACP President Earl Ford has few nice words to say about the Confederacy's former leader.
"I see Jefferson Davis as a traitor to the Union," said Ford, who believes symbols of the Confederacy represent a "despicable time" in our nation's history.
Despite Ford's aversion to the park, he said he would rather focus the NAACP's energy on issues that directly affect African Americans – disparities in the juvenile justice system and discipline in schools – than an issue that involves private property.
But other members of his organization do want to challenge the Davis park. He says some Vancouver NAACP members want the organization to protest the Jefferson Davis park. A vote by the NAACP's members could propel them into a fight against the park's construction, but it is unclear what effect it might have on a piece of private property.
Jacobs says the organization wants to focus purely on the historical aspects of both the Confederacy and Davis. He emphatically says they don't want the monument to be a rallying point for White supremacists. In order to be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, you must be able to prove blood relation to a Confederate veteran.
Jacobs says a person didn't have to be a racist or slave owner to be a member of the Confederacy, citing his own great-grandfather as one soldier who was neither. He says the organization is apolitical and dedicated to preserving the history of the Confederacy.
"We've had a lot of people who are positive or curious (about the park)," he said. "There's not been one single person who said anything opposed or negative about this. We want them to question why we're doing this."
Once people learn the organization is doing it for historical purposes, he said it's "enough to calm people's fears."
Washington state Rep. Jim Moeller says it's never a good time to honor Davis. Moeller was the Vancouver city councilman who was instrumental in getting the monument removed in the late '90s, an effort he says he's "quite proud of." He says the Sons of Confederate Veterans are trying to revise history, although he does respect their right to construct what they want on private property.
"This is still America," he said. "(and I also) have an absolute right to oppose it."