BENTONVILLE -- Even those who want him to stay understand why it's time for the Confederate soldier to leave his perch on the downtown square.
The monument has been on the square since 1908 in an agreement with Benton County. The Arkansas division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy announced June 1 it agreed to move the statue after discussion with community leaders, according to a news release from the group.
A target of pranksters throughout the years, lately the soldier has become more of a lightning rod for racial tension. Two cannon balls on the monument were taken during a protest against police brutality June 1 on the square. The cannon balls were recovered.
The rally was one of hundreds held across the nation to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 after he was pinned to the pavement by a white Minneapolis police officer who put a knee on Floyd's neck.
The rally deteriorated into a melee after law enforcement fired tear gas. A second peaceful protest was held without incident last Sunday night.
Karen L. Cox, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said people who support the statues honoring the Confederacy see them as a balance of the nation's Civil War history and Southern heritage. Those who are opposed view them as racially insensitive monuments to oppression, she said.
The Bentonville statue had become an ongoing concern for public safety even before the rally, Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said June 2.
"There are impassioned opinions on both sides of the issues surrounding the statue that have occasionally led to threats of vandalism and violence, and which in some rare instances have become reality. As the county judge, public safety is my primary concern, and so moving the statue out of the square is one step toward making the square safer for all residents of and visitors to Benton County and Bentonville," the statement said.
The statue also was vandalized Sept. 22. Two people pleaded not guilty Feb. 14 in connection with felony criminal mischief in the incident.
The Daughters of the Confederacy will work with the Benton County Historical Society and other community members to move the monument to James H. Berry Park, a private park adjacent to the Bentonville Cemetery, where Berry is buried.
The cemetery is at 400 S.W. F St., just southwest of downtown. It occupies 19 acres, according to Leah Whitehead with the Historical Society.
The property where the statue sits on the downtown Bentonville square is owned by the county, and the statue is owned by the Daughters of the Confederacy, Moehring said. Bentonville maintains the beautification and maintenance of the property.
Moehring told justices of the peace June 2 the square will continue to be county property and there will be no change in the relationship with the city as it relates to its upkeep.
Troy Massey of Harrison said he didn't want to see the statue moved, but he understands the decision made by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
"I wasn't too surprised with the climate today," Massey said. "I would have liked to see it stay, but the political situation in Bentonville would not allow that to happen."
Massey is the former national commander of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, made up of descendants of Confederate officers and civil or elected officials.
Community activist D'Andre Jones of Fayetteville has been a vocal opponent of the statue.
"I am relieved and happy," he said of the decision. "I am also excited about the future of Bentonville as it relates to diversity and inclusion."
Jones said it's appropriate to put the statue on private property. Having it on the square is a distraction, he said.
Cox said between 1895 and the start of World War I in 1914 the Daughters of the Confederacy put up between 700 to 800 Confederate statues. Cox is the author of the book Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.
The statues were intensely local, honoring local soldiers or local units that served the Confederacy, Cox said. Very few have been removed, she said.
"It's a drop in the bucket," she said.
About 160 people attended a public hearing in September 2017 headed by Compassion Fayetteville and the Omni Center for Peace to discuss the Bentonville statue's future.
People spoke for moving the statue and for leaving it in the square, and some offered ideas of building another statue to honor soldiers from the area who fought for the Union or to take off the word "Confederate" from the base.
The monument was dedicated Aug. 8, 1908, according to a 1996 National Registry of Historic Places registration form. The sculpture and its base are made of granite, the form states. The monument depicts a bearded soldier.
The monument was sponsored by the James H. Berry chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in honor of Benton County's Confederate veterans, according to the Historic Places registration form. Berry paid $1,500 of the statue's $2,500 cost, according to the form.
A story on the statue dedication in the Benton County Sun stated, "The visitors began to gather early in buggies, wagons and horseback and every incoming train was loaded down. The crowd at its maximum, during the day was estimated at 10,000 people, doubtless the largest crowd ever assembled in Benton County for the purpose of celebration."
The paper estimated 200 Confederate veterans attended the event.
The agreement to remove the statue will allow the Daughters of the Confederacy to display and preserve the historical significance of the monument and its connection to the history of Benton County in perpetuity, according to the group's release.
The process to relocate the monument will begin in August after the group submits an application under the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program to maintain the monument on the National Registry of Historic Places, according to the release. The Historical Society will own and operate the park and display the monument, according to the release.
Joey McCutchen, who represents the state Daughters chapter, said the application paperwork has started.
No county money will be used for moving the statue or for the park construction, Moehring's note to the justices of the peace stated.
Moehring said he and Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman have discussed what -- if anything -- will be placed on the spot now occupied by the statue. No decisions have been made, he said.
Several Confederate statues, memorials or markers have been established on private property in the past 20 years, Cox said. A statue of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is on private land in Nashville, Tenn., she said.
A Southern Poverty Law Center report noted 114 Confederate symbols have been removed and 1,747 still stood after the Charleston, S.C., church massacre of 2015.
Justice of the Peace Jerry Snow asked county attorney George Spence in an email if the county has standing to prevent or delay removal of the statue.
"I am confident the people of Benton County have believed this statue is the property of Benton County," Snow wrote.
McCutchen said he's "absolutely certain" the organization owns the statue. Spence said based on the county orders he had seen, he, too, believes the statue is Daughters of the Confederacy property.
"We believe (the) decision is in the best interest of preserving our state's history, educating the public and memorializing Benton County veterans. The approach followed during this process could serve as a business model for other communities to follow and also a model of peace, civility and respect," McCutchen said in the release.
About James H. Berry
James H. Berry was a Confederate officer. He also was a lawyer, an Arkansas legislator, a speaker of the Arkansas House and a circuit judge for the 4th Judicial District before being elected the state’s 14th governor, taking office in 1883. He followed his time as governor with a 22-year stint as a U.S. senator, from 1885 to 1907.
Source: Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.