Editor’s note: A group has received a permit from the Hot Springs National Park Service to hold a rally in support of preserving Confederate monuments from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug.
18 19, on the Arlington Hotel lawn. Guy Lancaster sends along this piece about the dark history behind the Hot Springs monument the group wants to preserve.
The stone Confederate soldier stands with his hands gripping the barrel of a rifle whose butt rests on the ground by his foot, and he is equipped with a bedroll, canteen and bullet pouch. The sculpture is 6 feet high, set upon a base 12 feet high, so the soldier can easily overlook the plaza bounded by Central, Ouachita, Market, and Olive streets in downtown Hot Springs. This simple monument bears the years “1861–1865” on its north face, above the words “CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS.” The Hot Springs chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy began raising funds for the monument in 1907, but these efforts lagged until
Hot Springs had actually been spared much of the direct violence of the Civil War. Worried that Little Rock might fall in 1862, Governor Henry Massie Rector briefly relocated state records there for just over two months, making Hot Springs the de facto Confederate state capital, but the city was never occupied by Union soldiers, while
However, during the early 20th century, Hot Springs twice erupted into the kind of violence that has its roots in the issues left unresolved by the Civil War, and both times, it happened right where that monument to Confederate soldiers stands today. Will Norman, a black man, was murdered there on June 19, 1913. Norman had worked as a servant for the family of C. Floyd Huff, a prominent man who had served as county judge from 1898 to 1900. After Huff’s daughter, Garland, was found stuffed in a closet with her head bashed in, suspicion immediately fell upon Norman, and newspapers prominently claimed that little Garland had “battled off the advances of Will Norman” despite the fact that no one had witnessed the attack and the victim was never able to relay her story before dying later that day.
According to the Arkansas Gazette, as news of the event quickly spread, “crowds began to gather, armed in
The next lynching in Hot Springs took place on August 1, 1922. Gilbert Harris, nicknamed “Bunk” or “Punk,” had reportedly shot Maurice Connelly, a young
According to one eyewitness, Roswell Rigsby, Harris’s body was dragged behind a truck until being cut loose in front of a “negro mortuary.” Connelly’s body, however, achieved a more dignified rest. Hundreds attended his funeral at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. At Hollywood Cemetery, where he was buried, stood about two dozen hooded and robed members of the Ku Klux Klan, lining the path from the cemetery gates to the gravesite. They filed to the grave following the bugler’s playing of taps, placed a floral wreath, and kneeled in prayer before departing.
In 1934, the lynching of Gilbert Harris was but a 12-year-old memory, while the lynching of Will Norman had happened only 21 years prior. Very likely, people in the crowd at the dedication of the Hot Springs Confederate Monument remembered the work of the mob in those two instances — and some may even have participated (3,000 to 4,000 men had reportedly participated in the hunt for Norman, which would have been a quarter of the town’s population at the time). Of course, people have typically been lynched in the same prominent public locations so useful for the installation of monuments, places with maximum visibility. However, what is relevant to the debate over the future of Confederate memorials is just how much history these monuments hide, and nowhere can this better be seen than in Hot Springs, where a stone Confederate soldier stands guard over the site of two lynchings, perhaps warning passersby to move on, not to investigate the real history of that plot of land. His very presence changes the story of the town in ways we cannot deny.
Dr. Guy Lancaster is the editor of “Bullets and Fire: Lynching and Authority in Arkansas, 1840–1950,” forthcoming from the University of Arkansas Press.
RELATED PS: The city of Hot Springs said today that the UDC had decided to no longer fly the Confederate flag over the monument. This followed an