Con­fed­er­ate statue topic of fo­rum

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS - By Melissa Gute

BENTONVILLE — A lo­cal me­di­a­tor is or­ga­niz­ing a pub­lic fo­rum about the Con­fed­er­ate statue on the down­town square hop­ing for an hon­est and pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion about the is­sues sur­round­ing the con­tro­ver­sial mon­u­ment.

Pub­lic Dis­cus­sion NWA will host the event from noon to 2 p.m. Satur­day at North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege, in part­ner­ship with Com­pas­sion Fayetteville and the OMNI Cen­ter for Peace.

Pub­lic Dis­cus­sion NWA is an ac­tiv­ity of Com­stock Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion Ser­vices. Its events are mod­er­ated with the “be­lief that talk­ing with each other and learn­ing to­gether lead to col­lab­o­ra­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s web­site.

A cou­ple of pan­elists will pro­vide ob­jec­tive in­for­ma­tion about the statue and Arkansas his­tory, said Jon Com­stock, owner of the con­flict res­o­lu­tion com­pany.

“It would be just to lay out some ba­sic in­for­ma­tion” and a “jump­ing off point” for the dis­cus­sion, he said. Com­stock will mod­er­ate the event.

The pur­pose is not to make a de­ci­sion or take a vote, but to en­gage in healthy con­ver­sa­tion, he said.

What to do with Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues and mon­u­ments has been a hot topic across the coun­try since a brawl broke out be­tween white na­tion­al­ists and coun­ter­protesters in Char­lottesville, Va., over the re­moval of a Robert E. Lee statue in Au­gust.

Bal­ti­more qui­etly re­moved four stat­ues overnight only a few days after the vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville. Other cities are dis­cussing what to do with their mon­u­ments and San An­to­nio re­moved one from a park early Fri­day.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials said since the Char­lottesville events they have fielded ques­tions and com­ments about the statue memo­ri­al­iz­ing Con­fed­er­ate soldiers on the down­town square.

Res­i­dents have started five pe­ti­tions deal­ing with the statue on Three of the pe­ti­tions have just a hand­ful of sup­port­ers, but “Keep the James H. Berry Mon­u­ment in Down­town Bentonville, Arkansas” had 14,517 sup­port­ers as of mid­day Fri­day. “Move the Con­fed­er­ate Mon­u­ment in Down­town Bentonville to a more ap­pro­pri­ate lo­ca­tion,” a pe­ti­tion by Ozark In­di­vis­i­ble, had 4,808 sup­port­ers.

Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin and Ben­ton County Judge Barry Moehring have said most of the com­ments they’ve re­ceived say keep the statue where it is.

More than 100 peo­ple at­tended Ozark In­di­vis­i­ble’s Stand in Sol­i­dar­ity with Char­lottesville event Aug. 13 around the mon­u­ment. Peo­ple from out­side Ben­ton County par­tic­i­pated.

Lo­cal his­to­rian Randy McCrory said he’s wor­ried res­i­dents from out­side the county will come to the fo­rum when it isn’t their is­sue to deal with. They don’t un­der­stand the rea­son­ing of long­time city res­i­dents, he said, call­ing the statue the “heart of Bentonville.”

“There’s been an in­flux of peo­ple from all over the place try­ing to tell us what we need to do with the statue,” he said. “I think this is strictly a Ben­ton County is­sue.”

McCrory said he’s not sure why there is so much op­po­si­tion now to the statue. There were no prob­lems when it was reded­i­cated and placed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places in 1996 nor when its centennial an­niver­sary was cel­e­brated in 2008, he said.

The statue memo­ri­al­izes Con­fed­er­ate soldiers and was placed on the down­town square by agree­ment be­tween the county and the James H. Berry chap­ter of the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy in 1908, ac­cord­ing to county records.

The group was given the right to “con­trol and oc­cupy” the park for the pur­pose of main­tain­ing the mon­u­ment. The chap­ter was “no longer ac­tive,” and the county trans­ferred the au­thor­ity to beau­tify and main­tain the square to the city in 1996, ac­cord­ing to a county court or­der. The county re­tained own­er­ship of the square un­der both ar­range­ments.

The statue is a point of pride for some and pain for oth­ers, Com­stock said. Both sides feel as if their dig­nity is be­ing at­tacked.

“When we feel like our dig­nity is be­ing at­tacked, we all re­act the same way,” he said. “It’s like we’re backed into a cor­ner.”

Satur­day’s event is not about chang­ing minds but be­ing able to lis­ten to those who have dif­fer­ing opin­ions and be heard, which can be a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, Com­stock said.

“What I find in me­di­a­tion is most peo­ple just want to be heard,” he said. “It’s not re­ally about the statue. The statue is an op­por­tu­nity to have a con­ver­sa­tion that’s re­ally been de­layed longer than it should have been.”

Photo by Ben Goff

A Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment of James H. Berry stands on the Bentonville square.

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