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Northwest Confederate Monuments Targeted For Removal And Vandalism

Courtney Flatt, Travis S. on Flickr, Molly Solomon
A plaque in Richland, a monument in Seattle and a highway marker near Ridgefield are three memorials that honor Confederates in the Washington state. The center photo depicts a vandalized mural with bronze decorations removed in 2007.

A white nationalist clash that left a woman dead last week in Charlottesville, Virginia was followed by the removal of Confederate statues, memorials and plaques around the country, either by protesters or at the behest of government officials. Several Confederate memorials still stand in the Northwest. We visited three of them.

A highway marker in Ridgefield

If you pull off I-5 onto a private road near Vancouver, Washinton, just after Ridgefield, you’ll see two flagpoles waving Confederate flags alongside the busy freeway.

Below them are two stone markers honoring Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Both are now covered in black and red paint…with a sign left behind that reads, “Solidarity, take them all down.”

These markers used to sit on public land until 2007, when the cities of Vancouver and Blaine, Washington voted to remove them.

That’s when a group honoring Civil War veterans brought them to a privately-owned park outside Ridgefield. John Sigmon is a Commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War long before he was in the confederacy," Sigmon said. "It’s not a symbol of racism. We’re as entitled to honor our ancestors as any other group in America.”

Sigmon said they’re also prepared to protect the monuments against further damge.

“When push comes to shove, we’re not wallflowers or patsies," Sigmon said. "We will defend our property with whatever means are considered appropriate.”

Sigmon says the organization will not remove the monuments and will step up security with armed guards at the park.

Richland's Lee Boulevard

If you’ve ever driven through Richland you may have noticed one of the main thoroughfares: Lee Boulevard.

Lee, as in Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

In recent days, the name hasn’t set well with some people in town. A few are calling for its rededication -- after another Lee with a more acceptable past.

Concerned citizens say a sign describing the street’s namesake glorifies Lee’s role in the Civil War -- and the racism he defended.

“It is not in our cultural interest to glorify those who fought for the enslavement of non-white people,” said Richland resident Martin McBriarty. “The Civil War was fought over nothing less than slavery, and we should not honor those like Robert E. Lee who committed themselves to the Confederacy and its white supremacist ideals.”

The Lee Boulevard sign reads in part: “He had become a potent symbol of regional pride and dignity and is still held in the same regard today.”

So what’s up with a street in Southeastern Washington bearing a confederate general’s name?

For that, you have to dig into Richland’s history.

In 1942, the federal government took over Richland to start the Hanford Project. And all of the government employees needed places to live.

The town grew exponentially overnight.

So did its roads.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Manhattan District Project named 120 streets after war veterans, engineers.

Then, in 2011, veterans groups decided to design markers so that Richland residents could learn more about some of the lesser-known namesakes: take Mahan and Haupt avenues.

Today, it may still be a long road to haul for those calling for the Lee Boulevard sign’s removal or the street’s rededication.

Richland Councilmember Dori Luzzo Gilmour said the city inherited the name from the government when it incorporated in 1958.

Recently she’s heard some interesting suggestions for a rededication: Bruce Lee, Jason Lee, Tommy Lee. But would the community want a renaming or rededication?

The local NBC-affiliate recently posed that question on Facebook -- and received some vitriolic backlash, many people saying history shouldn’t be erased.

For his part, McBriarty said he doesn’t think history should be erased at all.

“It's critical for us to understand the importance of the Civil War in establishing our national identity which embraces equality and liberty,” he said. “... I believe that the City of Richland could select a more ethically sound and culturally relevant person by the name of Lee to whom the boulevard may be dedicated.”

As for the sign? It’s on private property.

The city can’t force private citizens to take down a sign in their yard, Luzzo Gilmour said.

“I can’t even imagine that we’d want to jump into that,” she said. “Government overreach in the extreme.”

It’ll be up to the property owners or the groups that designed the sign to remove it, something McBriarty said he is asking them to do.

A cemetery memorial in Seattle

Lakeview Cemetery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington. It's been home to a monument to Confederate soldiers since 1926.

More than a decade ago someone ripped off its bronze cross and rifles, and Robert E. Lee's head. Two years ago someone spray painted "f___ white supremacy" on it after a white man shot nine people to death in a black church in Charleston.

For now the cemetery is closed until Monday morning. A sign at the locked front gate and the greeting on their voicemail attribute the closure to controversy over Confederate memorials.

Even Seattle's embattled Mayor Ed Murray has called for the monument's removal in the final months of his term.

It belongs to the Seattle Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The chapter has been active here for more than 100 years. When the monument was tagged the words were scrubbed off. Saving the money to replace the rifle and cross, and Lee's head, took years.