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People hurl racist epithets at protesters outside Confederate memorial in Clark County

On the anniversary of one of the most famous civil rights speeches in history, a few dozen protesters stood in opposition to a contentious, privately owned memorial to the Confederacy.

Jefferson Davis Park, a fenced-in patch alongside Interstate 5, hoists the Confederate flag and has long been viewed as a symbol of racism.

A three-hour protest kicked off at 2 p.m. and coincided with the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Organizer Donna Thompson said the monument, which has been protested off-and-on for years, sends a hostile message to people of color who may be driving by.

“It doesn’t belong here,” said Thompson. “Washington state wasn’t part of the Confederacy. It’s completely misplaced, it’s in a very prominent area, and it’s a very unwelcoming — almost threatening — to passersby.”

It was met by a handful of counterprotesters, themselves waving the Confederate and American flags, as well as the Thin Blue Line flag.

As the protest carried on, cars on Interstate 5 regularly honked, sometimes gesturing to either counterprotesters or the initial protesters, who held signs saying “Stop The Lynching” and “Black Lives Matter.”

One driver slowed down to yell at protestors, “Fuck Black lives!”

Oletha Wade-Matthews and John Thomas, who are Black, were talking with an OPB reporter when a white man from the counter-protest drove up to them, leaned out his window and said, ’Hey, fuck you, n-----.” The man quickly drove off.

“Make sure you put that in,” Wade-Matthews told OPB.

“That’s somebody’s boss,” she added.

Some protesters of the Confederate symbol gathered signatures for a petition calling the memorial a public nuisance and asking members of the Clark County commission to act against it. But that has long been an uphill battle for protesters and elected officials who agree with protesters.

Councilor Temple Lentz called the monument one of “treason, racism and terrorism,” but legally protected under the First Amendment.

“While the owners of the property have the legal right to express those values, it’s unfortunate that this is how they choose to engage the community,” she said. “I support those who wish to exercise their own rights to protest peacefully and promote values of equity and inclusion.”

The memorial’s owners, an organization named the Sons of Confederate Veterans, dispute that it’s a symbol of racism. The group’s mission is to “further the narrative of the Southern side of [the Civil War].”

“It has nothing to do with racism,” said John Sigmon, senior chaplain of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans’ Pacific Northwest Division. “Racism is rife everywhere. It’s across the country. What a tragedy.”

Sigmon said the counterprotesters were not affiliated with his organization. “We didn’t invite them,” he said.

One counterprotester, Russell Schultz, said he also wasn’t affiliated with any group. He said he was there to support the property owner’s First Amendment rights. He said it would be a different story if the property was public.

“They don’t have the right to get people mounted up and, like a posse, come take down something you put up on your own property, just because it’s not popular to them,” Schultz said.

Friday wasn’t the first time the memorial created tension. In August 2017, antifascists threw black tar and red paint on two stone markers.

One of the stone markers was originally dedicated near a historic cabin in Vancouver in 1939 and remained there until the late ’90s, until officials in Vancouver called for its removal.

In 2007, it was moved to the plot of private land where it now stands, with the Confederate flag waving near the freeway.

It had been on the county’s historic register until October 2017, when the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission voted it removed.

OPB’s Bradley W. Parks contributed to this report.

A man yells, "Fuck Black lives," and flips off demonstrators gathered outside Jefferson Davis Park in Ridgefield, Wash., Aug. 28, 2020, to protest in support of Black lives.
Bradley W. Parks /
A man yells, "Fuck Black lives," and flips off demonstrators gathered outside Jefferson Davis Park in Ridgefield, Wash., Aug. 28, 2020, to protest in support of Black lives.
A man who refused to give his name confronts demonstrators protesting in support of Black lives outside Jefferson Davis Park in Ridgefield, Wash., Aug. 28, 2020. The park, which sits on private property, flies Confederate, Gadsden, Mississippi and American flags off Interstate 5.
Bradley W. Parks /
A man who refused to give his name confronts demonstrators protesting in support of Black lives outside Jefferson Davis Park in Ridgefield, Wash., Aug. 28, 2020. The park, which sits on private property, flies Confederate, Gadsden, Mississippi and American flags off Interstate 5.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting