Former Jefferson County Judge Jack Jones, who was elected in 1989 and served for 18 years, said there was a movement to remove the statue outside the courthouse in the late 1990s. Jones said he appointed a multi-racial committee to make a recommendation on the issue.

“They decided that the statue was there,” and shouldn't be taken down, Jones said.

THE ISSUE: Confederate statues. THE IMPACT: Many contend the statues are symbols of a hate-filled past, while those who support them claim they are an important part of history

The violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, when one woman died after an alleged white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of people protesting the presence of white supremacists, centered on the city’s plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Charlottesville is the latest city where debate over Confederate monuments on public property has flared.

Supporters of keeping the statues up argue they are historical artifacts, and should be kept where they are so that current and future generations do not forget the past. Proponents of taking the statues down say the statues honor a fictional, glamorized Confederacy, are demeaning to African-Americans and are better located in a museum than in places of honor on public property.

Following the events in Charlottesville, city officials in Gainesville, Florida, and Baltimore, Maryland, oversaw the quick removal of Confederate statues in those cities. Protestors in Durham County, North Carolina, also forcibly removed a statue.

In Arkansas, 31 statues or cemeteries commemorating Confederate soldiers or icons are listed with the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program website. Six are located in the southeast corner of the state. That includes two in Jefferson County: the Camp White Sulphur Springs Confederate Cemetery and the Pine Bluff Confederate Monument outside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Former Jefferson County Judge Jack Jones, who was elected in 1989 and served for 18 years, said there was a movement to remove the statue outside the courthouse in the late 1990s. Jones said he appointed a multi-racial committee to make a recommendation on the issue.

“They decided that the statue was there,” and shouldn’t be taken down, Jones said.

Current public officials were not in a hurry to re-ignite a debate about the statue.

Rev. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, a longtime state legislator, in January became the first African-American to hold the office of Jefferson County judge. Wilkins said a number of people had expressed “concern or interest (to him) about removal of the statue” at the courthouse, both since he took office in January and following Saturday’s tragedy in Virginia.

“I shared with them that that’s something that I would really want to discuss with a variety of community leaders,” Wilkins said. “At worst, I’d want to place it if necessary in a museum. I would not want it destroyed. And the reason for that is it is a piece of historical documentation for our community.”

Wilkins said he was not in a rush to discuss the statue because he has more pressing goals.

“It’s not a high priority,” Wilkins said. “The things that are a priority are taking good care of roads, saving voters money by cutting out the fat so that we’ll be in the position to provide good quality service, and able to even lower people’s tax burden in this community. That’s what I would like to see happen.”

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, who in January took office as the city’s first African-American female mayor, also said there are other, more pressing concerns that she would like to focus on rather than the statue.

“Youth on youth violence, diminishing tax base, excessive community blight, redevelopment goals and a number of other issues that demand our immediate attention,” Washington said. “Our goal is to address the most pressing issues and concerns of our community. While the issue of racial tension may be a high priority in other communities, I feel like it’s good to know our city is working together across racial lines, regardless of black, white, Hispanic, Asian or any other races to tackle our issues so that we can become one Pine Bluff, stronger together.”

A question posted on the Commercial’s Facebook page asking readers whether they thought the courthouse's statue should be removed sparked hundreds of comments. Comments ran about even, for and against the statue’s removal.

Natasha Faith Sanders Ray wrote: “To be honest I have not even noticed it. Taking down a statue want change history, it is what it is. I wish all of us could focus on other things, such as the violence in our city. So many young people being murdered by young people. Let’s try and be a positive for a change and focus on things that are way more important right now!”

Tucker Iacobacci wrote: “Tear it down. This is the USA, we don’t celebrate or idolize traitors. It should be in a museum, not in front of a US courthouse, especially when they were fighting to ensure people didn’t have rights. This is a ridiculous discussion.”

History of the Pine Bluff statue

The statue was unveiled July 22, 1910, “before a large crowd at Pine Bluff High School,” according to the statue’s National Register of Historic Places registration form. Funding for the statue began three years earlier, in 1907, when the David O. Dodd (Pine Bluff) Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy “decided to erect a monument in honor of Dodd and the Confederate soldiers of Arkansas who served in the war.”

The ladies held a tea and bazaar to fund construction of the statue, supplemented by from proceeds from a biography of Dodd written by Mrs. Myra McAlmont Vaughan.

Dodd was a 17-year-old Arkansan arrested by Union troops 10 miles west of Little Rock on Dec. 29, 1863, while carrying a coded book containing the strength of Union forces. Reportedly offered a pardon if he revealed the source of the information, he refused, was sentenced to death by hanging and was executed Jan. 8, 1864. Dodd’s refusal won him heroic status in Confederate lore, in which he was sometimes hailed as “the boy martyr of the Confederacy.”

The 1910 statue unveiling featured a parade of Confederate flag bearers, young girls representing each Confederate state, and a procession of the “Cotton Belt band” down Laurel Street to the high school, according to the registration form. The statue was moved to the north side of the Jefferson County Courthouse in February 1974 when the high school underwent renovations.

Lela Murray, president of the David O. Dodd Chapter 212 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, declined comment when asked whether it was better for the statue to remain on public property or be moved to a museum.

“I don’t want to comment on it,” Murray said. “I appreciate your interest. Thank you for calling.”

A website for the Arkansas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans lists Jerry Lawrence as commander of the Pine Bluff camp of the organization, known as Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne Camp #1433. A woman who identified herself as Lawrence’s wife in a telephone interview, but declined to give her name, said her husband left the group after the previous controversy over moving the statue at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

“My suggestion is you leave the monuments alone,” she said. “The less that’s said about them, the better. There’s no point in stirring a pot that’s already boiling.”

The woman said what happened in Virginia was a tragic event. She said that during the previous effort to remove the Pine Bluff statue, the Sons of Confederate Veterans offered to raise money for a statue to honor African-American efforts during the war. She also pointed out that there were monuments in Jefferson County commemorating the Union efforts.

“There’s also two Union monuments,” she said. “So don’t try to make the Pine Bluff group look like we’re racists. The less that’s said about it, the better off we are.”

The statue at the Jefferson County Courthouse was among several Confederate monuments named to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1990s, when the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program participated in a national effort to document public monuments called “Save Outdoor Sculpture!”

Mark Christ, community outreach director for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, said, “there really wasn’t much controversy over the project at the time,” although they did receive “a few calls from folks who were not supportive of it.”

“Our view was that these properties, these sculptures, are the properties that best exemplify that whole phenomenon of the commemoration of the Civil War,” Christ said. “So that was our goal. … Being a Confederate state, there are far more Confederate monuments.”

Many statues erected in late 1800s, early 1900s

As part of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s documentation effort, historian Charles Russell Logan penned a history of the period in which most of the statues were erected in Arkansas. Titled, “Something So Dim It Must Be Holy: Civil War Commemorative Sculpture in Arkansas 1886-1934,” it documents how many of the statues aligned with the so-called “Lost Cause” movement to paint the Confederacy’s loss in the Civil War in a more favorable light.

In the two decades following the Civil War, most commemorative efforts in Arkansas were undertaken by widows and direct relatives of Confederate soldiers who died in the conflict, Logan wrote. They often took the form of cemeteries or modest monuments; these “funereal” monuments were erected as an act of mourning in a state shattered by war. Defeated Confederates were also reluctant to antagonize authorities of the Radical Republican government with monuments glorifying the efforts of the South in the war.

But as the region’s economy improved and southern Democrats reclaimed political power in the late 1800s, the purpose of the monuments changed from somber to celebratory, Logan wrote. Monuments were among the tokens used by Confederate remembrance groups as they “attempted to regenerate, apply and preserve the antebellum social order based on the notion of man’s (both white and black) innate inequality.”

“Through commemorations and sponsorship of oratories and written histories of the War Between the States, Southern patriotic groups engaged in cultural warfare to establish a ‘Confederate tradition,’ a dominant complex of attitudes and emotions that constituted the white South’s view of history and its application in contemporary times,” Logan wrote.

“Essentially, the tradition boiled down to an appreciation of the virtues of elite rule, a fear of the enfranchisement of blacks, and reverence for the Confederate cause. In Arkansas and throughout the South, according to historian Fred Arthur Bailey, the patriotic groups’ activities ‘crafted an image of the past suitable to their particular needs. For generations they had produced an intellectual paradigm that not only justified racial separation, but also stressed the virtues of an aristocratic South as contrasted to a degenerate and aggressive Yankee society.’

“History texts, speeches and memorial celebrations combined to form a public memory that secured in the ‘hearts and minds [of southerners] victories denied in the military defeat of 1865’ and also immunized Southerners against democratic reforms, such as the enfranchisement of blacks, which threatened many Southern whites. In Arkansas, an alliance between Confederate patriotic societies and the state educational establishment ensured the presentation of ‘a canted interpretation of the past.’ The groups believed it was important for Arkansas’s children to be ‘guarded from false shame as to the political actions of their ancestors,’ as Mrs. Richard B. Willis, a historian for the Arkansas Division of the UDC, said in 1904.”

The ideology of the “Lost Cause” had coalesced by the 50th anniversary of the war’s end in 1915, Logan wrote. Secession, according to the new myth, was generally seen as a mistake and preserving the Union proper. Slavery was acknowledged as immoral and thus ending it was the right thing to do, but black people were still not regarded as equal to white people.

Reconstruction “was misguided because attempts to provide equal rights for former slaves resulted in injustices against white southerners.”

Most Confederate statues took the form of lone soldiers perched atop a high marble pillar. They were erected so often after 1900 that companies mass-produced them. Many were made by the McNeel Marble Company of Marietta, Georgia, which produced the Pine Bluff statue as well as statues in Hot Springs and Marianna. Most monuments were placed on the lawns of courthouses and other public property. In many southern towns, Logan wrote, a monument prominently placed downtown “became a physical symbol of vindication.”

“One memorialist claimed that the soldiers acted as a form of history for children or workingmen who did not or could not read,” Logan wrote. “‘Books are occasionally opened,’ he said, ‘monuments are seen every day, and the lesson of that lofty figure [is] … Live nobly, there is reward for patriotic duty. Republics are not ungrateful.’”

Most of the statues were funded by chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which also became involved in the production of textbooks for schoolchildren. In 1923 the UDC pushed for and received a $2,500 grant from the Arkansas General Assembly to produce a history textbook for the Civil War.

The resulting book, “Arkansas in War and Reconstruction,” “acknowledged that slavery played some role in the sectional tensions that caused the Civil War, but the author stressed that states’ rights and regional loyalty were the primary factors that determined Arkansas’s siding with the Confederacy,” Logan wrote.

The book also stated that most black slaves “behaved admirably throughout the war, the vast majority remaining at home and ‘carrying on’ for their masters,” and blamed northern Carpetbaggers who “recruited blacks to Republican politics and turned them against their former masters, gave blacks weapons and ordered them to go ‘over the state terrorizing and plundering the people.’ To confront these Carpetbag militias, brave Arkansans supported the Ku Klux Klan, which discouraged ‘the Negro from taking part in politics.’”

The 1915 minutes of the Arkansas UDC’s annual convention included a “lengthy passage explaining the ‘Necessity of the Ku Klux Klan,’” Logan wrote.

Textbooks on the Civil War for use in Arkansas schools required approval from UDC historians as late as the 1950s, he added.