BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KFTA) — A Benton County official says history and large public support is why a Confederate monument should not be removed from the Bentonville Square.
“There’s a very practical consideration and there’s more of a pubic opinion consideration. The practical consideration is, we live up to our agreements, and our agreement is that it will stay there except upon 12 months notice. So we’re living up to our agreement as opposed to having the statue removed. There is no plan to do that,” said Benton County Judge Barry Moehring.
George Spence, the attorney for Benton County, confirmed last week that a court order from 1914 states that the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) own the statue, but that the county, which owns the section of the Bentonville Square where the statue is located, can return the statue to the UDC if the county judge provides 12 months prior notice to the UDC.
Moehring said he recognizes that there are people who find the statue offensive, but that public sentiment is more in favor of keeping the statue.
“You will see that there is a tremendous amount of public sentiment that treats that statue as a historical statue, that it a represents a piece of history, that it represents a piece of Bentonville’s lineage and history,” Moehring said. “In the terms of the responses I get in my office and what I see, there’s a tremendous amount of support for the keeping the statue because of its historical significance to the city and the county.”
Moehring said he has seen petitions to keep the statue and petitions to get rid of the statue, and estimates that those who signed to keep the statue outnumber those who want to get rid of it 3 to 1.
D’Andre Jones, president of the Northwest Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus, said numbers shouldn’t be the priority.
If Benton County and Bentonville’s mission is to promote diversity and inclusiveness, then why have a statue in the public square that represents the oppression of African-Americans, Jones asks.
“Who are we? Are we looking at the majority of people or are we looking at the mission and what we hope to do five, 10 to 15 years from now,” Jones said. “Do we value being safe and continuing this reflection of inequity or racial oppression, or do we say, ‘Okay guys we have it here, we can keep it, but do we necessarily have to keep it here?’ If our goal is to be more diverse and inclusive, why would we have this image here. I’m not saying get rid of it, but does it need to be there?”
Jones said he respects history and does not believe in throwing away representations of history.
“We cannot deny history. We cannot deny any of it,” Jones said. “I’m not saying discard it, because I value the perspectives of other people. I value people who have different political opinions because that’s part of diversity, and that’s what I think makes this nation great, and you have to have a balance, however, at the sacrifice of what?”
Jones said he would rather see the statue in a museum instead of a public square.
Moehring said there are no plans to remove the statue, but if it were taken down that it be done so in a collaborative manner.
“What would be really unfortunate, and I think would create a problem, was if it were summarily removed as other cities have done,” Moehring said.
The James H. Barry Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy presented the monument honoring Second Lt. James Barry to Benton County in 1908. Since then, it has stood in the Bentonville Square and frequently drawn controversy.
Although U.S. slavery of black people no longer existed in 1908, there were segregation laws that restricted black people’s freedoms, as well as numerous acts of violence and brutality against black people across the south.
Moehring said times have changed, but there are sensitivities on both sides of the issue.
“There are great sensitivities on the side who believe that statue represents something much different,” Moehring said. “I am certainly listening to anyone who wants to talk to me about it, and I understand there are sensitivities surrounding it, and hopefully someday there’s some sort of solution to that, but just simply eliminating a part of our history is not part of that solution.”
Jones said the statue is not a proper representation of today’s Bentonville and that officials should do what’s right.
“The question is who are we and what do we really hope to achieve here,” Jones said. “You can’t have it both ways. You can because you’ve done it, but is it really following the values of Bentonville? If your mission and value statement is [inclusiveness], then you shouldn’t follow public opinion. You should do the right thing and move forward.”