The state is taking the first steps to remove two of the four controversial Confederate monuments on government property – including one near Mesa.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy has offered to take back the memorial it had placed across from the Capitol in 1961 at a time of increased activity in the civil rights movement.
That organization also will take possession of a stone marker currently located along U.S. 60 east of Mesa which marks the Jefferson Davis Highway.
Originally located in 1943 by the same group along what was U.S. 70 at Duncan, near the New Mexico border, the rock and granite market was moved in the 1960s with state approval to its current location, on Department of Transportation right of way.
But the name “Jefferson Davis Highway” hasn’t existed for years.
The move, announced late Wednesday by Gov. Doug Ducey, gets him partly out of a sticky political situation.
Two other monuments to the Confederacy remain on state property, one at Picacho Peak State Park and the other at the state cemetery in Sierra Vista. And the governor appears in no rush to deal with them.
“We haven’t made any determinations on those,’’ said press aide Patrick Ptak. “The owners of those monuments are free to contract the state, as was the case with these two."
Ducey has for years resisted any calls to remove them, saying he sees nothing wrong with monuments to the Confederacy and those who fought for it remaining on state land.
“It’s not my desire or mission to tear down any monuments or memorials,’’ the governor said three years ago.
“It’s important that people know our history,’’ Ducey said. “I don’t think we should try to hide our history.’’
More recently, in the wake of demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the governor modified his position – but only a bit. He said that any decision to remove the monuments should be a “public process.’’
That, however, never materialized.
Instead, the removal was facilitated by three chapter presidents of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who reached out to Andy Tobin, head of the state Department of Administration, asking the state to return the items.
“These monuments were gifted to the state and are now in need of repair,’’ the letter states. “But due to the current political climate we believe it unwise to repair them where they are located.’’
“It is the wish of the Arizona members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the (organization’s) Monument Restoration Committee that the state facilitate this re-gifting as swiftly as possible to avoid any further damage, vandalization or complete destruction,’’ the letter reads.
The marker for the Jefferson Davis Highway was tarred and feathered in 2017 and recently splattered with red paint.
The arrangement deal does not end the controversy, with at least two more monuments remaining on state property.
One, erected about a decade ago, sits inside the state-run Veteran Cemetery in Sierra Vista. It’s inscription memorializes “Arizona’s Confederate veterans who sacrificed all in the struggle for independence and the constitutional right of self-government.’’
It was placed by the Confederate Secret Service Camp 1710, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The other is at Picacho Peak State Park, the site of the only Civil War battle in what was then the territory of Arizona which the Confederacy claimed. It is inscribed as “dedicated to those Confederate frontiersmen who occupied Arizona Territory, Confederate States of America."