Davis marker heads for storage

By Susanna Ray

Herald Writer

The monument in Blaine dedicating Highway 99 to Confederate President Jefferson Davis will be put in storage within the next few days until "a less intrusive place" at the Peace Arch State Park is found for it, state officials said Wednesday.

"The rock is moving!" exclaimed an exuberant state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who led the drive to take down the stone marker this year after he noticed it while coming back from a kayaking trip to Canada in August.

"It seemed to me, when the Legislature wasn’t able to agree, and I was still hearing from people about it, the best thing we could do if it’s offensive to a number of people is to … remove it from being in such a prominent location in the park," said Cleve Pinnix, the director of the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission.

That’s not enough for black activist groups, however, who have requested a meeting with the governor about the issue and plan to keep up their petition drive.

"We won’t accept anything but a complete removal of that marker from public property," said Oscar Eason Jr., president of the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It doesn’t belong there."

Dunshee, Eason and others equate honoring Davis with honoring slavery. Many historians say the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not over slavery, but regardless of its cause, opponents of the marker say the Confederacy has come to represent slavery.

The Washington chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the road to Davis because of his efforts in getting highways built here when he was the U.S. secretary of war. In 1940, the group placed the marker, with the state’s official blessing, at the northern end of what was then Highway 99.

They had put a similar marker at the road’s southern end in Vancouver the year before. That monument was quietly taken down and put in a shed in 1998 by city managers who found it offensive. Vancouver councilman Jim Moeller said Wednesday that with the recent ruckus over the marker, a community meeting has been scheduled in April to come up with recommendations on what to do with it.

Dunshee set off a firestorm when he wrote a bill to change the name of the highway to the "William P. Stewart Memorial Highway" in honor of a black pioneer from Snohomish who was a Union soldier.

The issue gained national attention after The Herald first reported it in January, and hundreds of people from across the country called or sent e-mails to Dunshee, reporters and newspapers’ editorial pages.

His bill made it almost all the way through the Legislature until it stalled in a Senate committee. He then tried it as an amendment, which passed the House but died in the Senate on the last day of the session, March 14.

But now Pinnix has stepped in and decided to move the marker without a legislative mandate.

Suzanne Silek, the president general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, based in Richmond, Va., said she doesn’t mind if the marker is moved, but she’d like to have a hand in writing whatever interpretive signs might be placed around it.

Pinnix said he has heard from numerous people, some who want the marker completely gone and others who want it left alone. He said his compromise decision was "responsible."

"We’ll try to find a place where if someone wants to see it, they can, but it’s not right in the middle of everything," Pinnix said.

You can call Herald Writer Susanna Ray at 425-339-3439

or send e-mail to ray@heraldnet.com.

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