Jefferson Davis Statue in the Middle of Controversy

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After months of back-and-forth, it seems Confederate President Jefferson Davis might find a final resting place.

In the summer of 2008, the Southern Confederate Veterans, the self-proclaimed “guardians of Confederate history and heritage,” commissioned Lexington-based sculptor Gary Casteel to create a statue in honor of the bicentennial of Davis’s birth. Costing upwards of $100,000, the statue depicts Davis with his biological son, Joe, and adopted black son, Jim Limber.

According to Brag Bowling, a leading member of the SCV, the goal of the group is to increase public awareness: “[Jefferson Davis] was one of the two most important political figures of the 19th century, he and Lincoln, yet he has not been given any political recognition.” What recognition Davis does receive, says Bowling, is all negative. “He has taken on the entire burden of the war. He won’t be given the due he deserves except from organizations like the SCV.”

Bowling and the rest of SCV see Davis quite differently: “He wasn’t some hater, he was a family man, that had some compassion. These are things that are completely omitted.” Particularly noteworthy argues Bowling is Davis’s adoption of Jim Limber, a free black boy from Richmond.

In June of 2008, the SCV officially offered the Davis statue to the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, Virginia. The offer came as bit of a surprise to ACWC president Christy Coleman, who described her own feelings regarding the offer as “extremely cautious.”

The relationship between the SCV and ACWC has been “contentious at best,” Coleman said. In 2003, the ACWC unveiled a statue depicting President Abraham Lincoln with his son Tad during their visit to Richmond in the final days of the Civil War. The SCV objected to the statue, organizing large demonstrations to protest its dedication.

The contentions relationship with the ACWC in part prompted the SCV to offer the Davis statue.

Negotiations between the two groups began in June of last year. Two months later, on August 13, the ACWC announced that it would accept the statue. According to Coleman, the ACWC saw the statue as a potential catalyst for a larger discussion on historical memory: "This really became more of an opportunity [to show] how people choose to remember.”

The decision to accept the statue came with no guarantees, however, that it would be displayed on site at Tredegar, a policy Coleman claims is quite common amongst museums. Its commonality did little to appease the SCV, which rescinded its offer in November. "As a steward of SCV money, I'm not going to take that risk, where it might not be displayed or it might be made in a way that denigrates the intent of the statue," Mr. Bowling said.

The SCV and Bowling have often criticized the ACWC for lacking historical balance, a claim Coleman vehemently denies: “Mr. Bowling’s claims are totally unfounded. I don’t think he’s actually been through the center. The fact of the matter is, the center has given tremendous balance to the story.”

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