A new Facebook page caught my attention earlier this year. The page, titled “Shame of Bentonville,” lists its purpose as a place to share facts, documents and solutions related to removing the Confederate statue from the Bentonville Square. The recent vandalism of the monument has it back in the news.
The square is an important community center for the city. Along with shops and restaurants, the Benton County Courthouse and the original Walton’s 5&10 sit on either end. First Friday activities and the Saturday Farmer’s Market are held there. The statue, elevated and surrounded by flowers and a fountain, clearly occupies a place of honor.
For the past several years, a number of people have spoken out against the continued presence of the monument. The response is usually that we should not erase history, but I sure didn’t notice too many folks throwing a fit when the historic Tucker’s Corner building just a few feet from the square was torn down to make room for a new hotel. The statue does celebrate our history. It celebrates our history of racism and the Confederacy. The mass-produced statue was one of many put up around the state by the Arkansas United Daughters of the Confederacy in the early 1900s and depicts a generic soldier. It was later dedicated to James H. Berry, a Confederate soldier and former governor of Arkansas who helped pay to erect the monument. Berry, while governor, wasn’t the worst on racial and social issues, but he did oppose giving women the right to vote.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, at the unveiling of the statue, the song “Dixie” was performed. For those who think the song is an innocent tune about pining for the South, you might want to read up. The song, credited to Daniel Decatur Emmett, who created the first blackface minstrel troupe, was composed to put a positive spin on slavery. In addition to the song, a number of dignitaries gave speeches celebrating the secession that completely ignored the horrors of that institution.
This actual history the statue marks is the problem for those who want to see it removed, including Asele Mack, who started the Facebook page. I spoke to Mack, a librarian and former journalist, recently about her efforts. She wants to “de-normalize” the statue and acknowledges that much work must be done before county officials take any action. For now, Mack, along with others who are working to show that public opinion has shifted in recent years in favor of moving it elsewhere, go to the Bentonville Square every Saturday morning to engage people and raise awareness that a monument to a war fought to preserve the institution of slavery should no longer occupy a place of honor in the center of Bentonville.
For her efforts, Mack has been the subject of a Change.org petition, now taken down by that website, that called for her termination as a librarian and accused her and others of hating the United States and pushing a pro-Islamic agenda. She’s been warned to “stay in the city limits” because people in the surrounding communities won’t tolerate her views.
Not everyone has been so hateful. Recently, at the Bentonville Soup gathering, Mack and Sheree Miller were awarded a micro-grant to spread awareness and education about the actual history of the monument. If you want to find out more about the legalities of moving the statue and support Mack and others working to rid the Bentonville Square of the racist reminder, you can find more information at the Shame of Bentonville Facebook page.