BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA) — Benton County officials can remove the Confederate soldier monument from the Bentonville Square if proper notice is given, the county’s attorney said.
The James H. Barry Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy presented the monument honoring Second Lt. James Barry to Benton County in 1908. Since then, it has stood in the Bentonville Square and frequently drawn controversy.
The statue’s presence stands against the spirit of equality that cities across Northwest Arkansas promotes, according to D’Andre Jones, president of the Northwest Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus.
“I think images are very powerful, and I think that since we are hoping to achieve a goal of equality, of equity, then I think that any image that is not conducive to that doesn’t belong in a public space,” Jones said. “If you’re trying to recruit diversity, if you’re welcoming diversity, then why would you display a sharp contrast to that?”
The statue is located within a park inside the square. The park is owned by Benton County, and the statue is the property of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), according to George Spence, the county’s attorney.
A 1914 court order officially recognizes the UDC’s placement of the monument in Bentonville’s public square. The order also granted the UDC the right to occupy and control the park for the purpose of beautifying the park and maintaining the monument.
County officials have the power to remove the statue if a proper 12-month notice is given to the UDC.
“If notice was given, it could be removed. There’s nothing reflected in the order that says [there has to be cause],” Spence said. “[The 1914 court order] basically says, ‘We got this statue here and we’re going to let it stay there, and the agreement is we’re going to have that in the park, and we’re not going to disturb it unless we give notice.'”
The court order states the following:
“WHEREAS, the County Court ordered that said Park in the public square of Bentonville, Arkansas, be dedicated to Miss Alice Hanis, President, Mrs. Agnes Mathews, Vice President, Mrs. W. A. Dickson, Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. Elliot R. Berry, Recording Secretary, Miss Anna Patton, Treasurer, and Mrs. J. B. Steveson, Historian, as officers of the James H. Berry Chapter No. 871 of the United Daughters of the Confederate of Bentonville, Arkansas, and to their successors in office, to use and the right to occupy and control said Park for the purpose of beautifying the same, and for the purpose of maintaining said monument aforesaid. The fee title to said property being reserved and retained in the County of Benton, and their possession was not to be disturbed as granted by said order without due and proper notice having been given to them by the order of the County Court o f Benton County, Arkansas for a period of twelve months before said County shall want the exclusive use and occupancy of said property.”
The UDC no longer maintains the statue or beautifies the park.
The City of Bentonville took over beautifying the park and maintaining the monument in August 1996, according to a county document.
Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman’s office had no comment on whether the statue should stay or be removed.
“The city doesn’t have a comment because it isn’t city property,” said Debbie Griffin with Bentonville Community Relations.
UDC personnel did not return a call requesting comment on the statue.
County officials have yet to comment on why the Confederate statue is kept in place.
Jones acknowledges that the statue represents a part of the state’s history, but he said it is a “dark” part of history.
“I think that we’re all familiar with the history of the Confederacy as it relates to people of color. If we’re hoping to achieve diversity, if we treasure diversity, equity and inclusion, then there is a place for those particular images,” Jones said.
Jones said the proper place for the Confederate statue is a museum.
Jones said he would rather see a monument in the square that represents a brighter future, not a darker past.
“Any image that reflects unity, any image that reflects what Northwest Arkansas is hoping to achieve as it relates to being a community where everyone is welcome,” Jones said. “If everyone is truly welcome, if that’s who we say we are, if that’s who we thrive to be, if that’s who we desire to become, I think that any image that we display for the whole community to see… that image should reflect peace, should reflect compassion, should reflect justice, the America and the community that we claim to want.”