Helena Commissioners to Discuss Fate of Confederate Fountain

Helena Mayor Jim Smith said there will be an opportunity for public comment

By Molly Priddy

HELENA — The Helena City Commission is expected to discuss the future of a Confederate memorial during an administrative meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Helena Mayor Jim Smith said there will be an opportunity for public comment.

Smith has previously said he opposed removing or altering the granite fountain, which was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and dedicated in 1916. Smith says he’s now open to the idea of removing it.

Native American lawmakers in Montana called for the memorial’s removal Tuesday after a weekend of violence, including a death, during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The lawmakers said such monuments have stood for segregation, secession and slavery.

Both Smith and Commissioner Dan Ellison said they want to hear from the community and other commissioners before making a decision.

“I’m just deeply troubled by what’s going on in the country today, and the fountain’s a part of it, so we’ll have a discussion about the fountain,” Smith said.

One commissioner has already made up his mind.

“After Charlottesville the only contemporary context is racial and political hate,” wrote Commissioner Ed Noonan. “Now the memorial must be removed.

“I think that leaves it open to being treated as an artifact to be stored for future disposition,” Noonan wrote.

Gov. Steve Bullock told Montana Public Radio that the fountain was a city issue, not a state issue.

“Whether it’s ripped out and put in a museum or left with a sign clearly explaining how and why that fountain was erected a century ago, what’s important is that in 2017 it’s clear we as Montanans do not glorify some of the darkest chapters of our past or tolerate the hate and racism that a small fringe of our society continues to spew,” Bullock said.

Removing the memorial was first considered two years ago, after a man who had been photographed with the Confederate flag shot and killed nine people at a South Carolina church. At the time, Smith cautioned against “obliterating history.” Commissioners decided to install a plaque to explain the origin of the fountain and the group that dedicated it. The plaque has not yet been put up.

The plaque was to have acknowledged that the United Daughters of the Confederacy openly supported the Ku Klux Klan and its mission of white supremacy. The story ended noting that at the dedication, a UDC member who founded St. Peter’s Hospital “lauded the present-day American spirit, a spirit of union with no feeling between the old North and South that caused such bitterness and sorrow years ago.”

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