Public speaks out on future of Confederate monuments in Madison

MADISON (WKOW) -- Madison city officials are faced with a big decision on how to tell our nation's history, after members of the public came out to speak their minds on the future of confederate monuments in the city.The debate has many torn over respecting the dead and respecting people's feelings of racial oppression. 

A joint meeting of parks and city officials gathered Tuesday night to hear how people feel about the issue that's sparked a lot of debate since the mayor initially ordered the removal of a monument in Forest Hill Cemetery, which was built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Mayor Paul Soglin says it glorifies the Confederate cause."It was a civil war, let us not forget that," Soglin told the commission members. "It was insurrection. It was an attack mounted against the United States fortress. It was an attack against the government of the United States. It was treason and nothing less."

Most of those who spoke at the meeting said they wanted to make sure the city respects those prisoners of war who died in Madison, regardless of who they fought for years ago."The 140 men buried there, we really don't know anything about them, so to say that they were just automatically gallant or automatically traitors, I think, is not fair to them," said Paul Sherman, who has loved ones buried in Forest Hill. Benjamin Nickel, an Air Force veteran, says the city must protect the graves of the soldiers. "These boys had no choice. They had to come to Wisconsin. Prisoners of war. They died here, never saw home again and as you can see they're still prisoners of war," Nickel said. "Whether they fought for the right or the wrong people, we shouldn't take somebody's dignity away. They should rest in peace."Others expressed concern over the group that memorializes the ideas behind the Confederacy."[It] pushes an alternative view of the Civil War that minimizes slavery, minimizes the suffering of the African Americans who were brought here not of their own volition," said Kathy Walsh.

The group of members from the parks and landmarks commissions didn't take any action Tuesday night, instead referring discussion to the respective commissions for a future vote. David Wallner, president of the Madison Parks Commission, told 27 News it's important to allow the public to speak up about this issue that's gained attention across the country."I think in light of some of the national issues about monuments in other cities, New York is debating what to do about it's Columbus statue, all over the south they're talking about things that relate to the Civil War. It's in reaction to that, this is a smaller version of it," he said. Alder Maurice Cheeks, a member of the Board of Parks Commissioners, says he hopes the conversation will lead the city to make the right decision. 

"For us in this community, to be able to take steps to right a wrong, to clarify and hopefully unwind some of the history of white supremacy in this country in a small way, I'm really proud to be a part of this," Cheeks told 27 News. 

The commissions will consider removing the monuments, altering their messages or adding a new monument to explain the Civil War and the history of the monuments created in Madison.

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