Sunday, April 3, 2016

Downtown Bentonville & Its 2nd Place Trophy

I spent some time in downtown Bentonville recently. Great things are happening, as pointed out in this recent New York Times article. Tusk & Trotter, Bentonville Brewing Co., Oven & Tap, and more all surround a classic courthouse square - the finest city layout in the U.S., in my opinion. As a preservationist & design snob I could take issue with how the downtown buildings have been muddled but I'll skip that detailed critique for now and applaud the city's focus on its downtown & the cultivation of  unique, local businesses.

Breweries (one of the Fallows 11 Keys to a City Succeeding), chef devotees of Alice Waters, a boutique hotel, a downtown grocery story - all the pieces of the formula for greatness. But I couldn't escape the fog of shame & intolerance the shadow of the Confederate Soldier Monument cast across every street and sidewalk.

By Bobak Ha'Eri - Own work, CC BY 2.5,

In Something So Dim It Must Be Holy: Civil War Commemorative Structures in Arkansas the author writes: 
"Southern patriotic organizations were not merely quaint, backward-looking groups satiated and sedated by nostalgia for a bygone era; instead, they were a potent cultural and political force that attempted to regenerate, apply and preserve the antebellum social order based on the notion of man's (both white and black) innate inequality"
It goes on to read:
"Through commemorations and sponsorship of oratories and written histories of the War Between the States, Southern patriotic groups engaged in cultural warfare to establish a "Confederate tradition," a dominant complex of attitudes and emotions that constituted the white South's view of history and its application in contemporary times.xiv"
In less scholarly terms Confederate monuments are often referred to as "2nd Place Trophies".

Removal of Confederate monuments is controversial, to say the least. There is a valid debate that removal is a whitewashing of history. There's an equally valid debate that maintaining the monuments is celebrating treason and bigotry.

One city that has had the courage to act on the removal is New Orleans. However, they've had a bit of trouble in getting a contractor to actually do the work. So much trouble that one contractor had his Lamborghini set on fire. People have been threatened with death, business contracts have been canceled.

Removing the monument in downtown Bentonville is beyond unlikely. There have been attempts in the past but as the Daughters of the Confederacy was deeded the park in perpetuity, removal or perhaps better, it being place in a more appropriate locale, seems challenging.

Bentonville was the home of world commerce for decades, at least until Amazon (& with it Seattle) surpassed it last year. So much work has been done to transform this one-time cow town into an international destination. But when visitors come for Crystal Bridges and stay at 21C they see a monument that essentially celebrates America's original sin.

I think that's a shame. We are better than that.

The shadow of 1957 still looms large in this state. Our Central High memorials are not to our shame but to our path forward.

I'm not one who believes that history should be ignored, disregarded or whitewashed. But I also don't think we should celebrate our shame, particularly in a place so important to this state's place in the world.

We should ask ourselves: why are we honoring something so publicly? One local advocate is speaking out about this issue. He calls for dialogue.

In June 2015 WalMart chose to stop selling the confederate (battle flag of  Northern Virginia) flag in stores and online. But in their hometown, this monument to our troubled past remains.

"They fought for home and Fatherland" is etched on the monument. Fatherland. Home of and to the lost cause.

It reads wrong to me and it feels misplaced in a locale aspiring to become the next international city.

It's not a monument, it's an anchor.

A first class downtown deserves something better than a second place trophy.

But there's the issue of the in perpetuity lease. I suspect it would take a lot of money to convince the Daughters of the Confederacy to give up there lease. Giving to the Daughters of the Confederacy might be distasteful to some but it might be the only way to re-home this symbol of a lost cause.  

It's too bad there's not a lot of money in Northwest Arkansas.