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The plaque removed from Horton Plaza isn’t the only thing commemorating members of the Confederacy in the city – and the other might be much harder to remove, even if officials want to.
Like other officials across the country, the mayor of San Diego this week rushed to evict a Confederate-friendly monument from public property. The plaque removed from Horton Plaza has company: A memorial to Confederate soldiers stands over their graves under an American flag at the historic city-owned Mt. Hope Cemetery.
The city “does not endorse Confederate symbols of division,” a spokesman said Thursday, so the plaque in Horton Plaza had to go. But an organization called the Daughters of the Confederacy owns the land under the Mt. Hope monument, and the city’s hands appear to be tied. “Unlike a marking in a public plaza,” the spokesman said, “this is on a private cemetery plot.”
The Mt. Hope memorial, which has an engraving that says it’s dedicated to the “Confederate Veterans and Their Wives Herein Buried,” appears to be larger than the Confederate memorial that the Daughters of the Confederacy chose to remove from a Hollywood cemetery on Wednesday. That decision came after the L.A. monument sparked outrage, vandalism and hundreds of petition signatures demanding its removal.
In recent days, other Confederate monuments have been vandalized, torn down and covered up in the wake of the Virginia tragedy sparked by a protest against the removal of a Charlottesville, Va., statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Supporters of the monuments, including the president, claim they’re historic treasures. Critics note that they honor traitors who fought to preserve slavery.
The Daughters of the Confederacy’s San Diego chapter, which was created and named after General Stonewall Jackson in 1901, bought Mt. Hope plots in 1905 and erected a memorial in 1948. Members of the local chapter purchased plots and paid for the burial of many indigent soldiers at the turn of the 20th century and beyond, said Scarlett Stahl, president of the California division of the Daughters of the Confederacy organization, in an interview.
The Mt. Hope memorial highlights the chapter’s name and features emblems of the organization. “The marker is a memorial marker for the dead buried around it and not a Confederate monument,” Stahl said. Nearby gravestones mark the graves of Confederate veterans. Some note their military units in the “C.S.A” (Confederate States of America) and display Confederate emblems.
The local Stonewall Jackson chapter still exists and had an extensive website until several pages from it were removed Wednesday. One of the pages celebrated the recent return to Horton Plaza of a plaque that honored San Diego as the terminus of the 1920s “Jefferson Davis Highway.”
Mayor Kevin Faulconer ordered the Horton Plaza plaque removed on Wednesday hours after local legislator Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and Councilman Chris Ward, who represents downtown, became aware of its existence. Gonzalez Fletcher earlier spearheaded the successful move to change the name of San Diego’s Robert E. Lee Elementary School.
“I’m not for taking down individual tombstones or disturbing the dead,” said Gonzalez Fletcher of the Mt. Hope monument. “What I am opposed to is the public honoring of individuals through naming of schools and highway and the placing of plaques and statues in town squares given their leadership in a pro-slavery army in a treasonous war.”
She also noted the American flag at the Mt. Hope monument, calling it “a nice ironic touch” in light of the South’s mission to detach itself from the United States.
Flags are a touchy issue for the Daughters of the Confederacy. The May 2016 newsletter of the organization’s California division includes an item titled “How Confederate Are Your Meetings?” that urges members to remember to say a pledge and salute a Confederate flag when they get together. “If you are in a restaurant where you don’t want ‘trouble,’ use a very small 1st Nat’l. flag — there’s no point to pushing this issue only to be asked to NOT hold your meeting there. (Happened to SCV Camp 302 at Mimi’s, San Diego, in Feb).”
Confederate monuments are in the spotlight even at the private Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles, best known as the permanent home of dozens of departed celebrities. A recent L.A. Times commentary drew attention to its 1925 granite monument, which sat in Hollywood Forever’s Confederate veteran section, and the cemetery began to receive messages demanding its removal.
A chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy chose to remove the statue, said a representative who decried both white supremacists and Black Lives Matter to the L.A. Times. A cemetery representative told the paper that “it was thought that it would become impossible for us to maintain an atmosphere of tranquility, harmony and inclusion… with the monument present here.”
At 110 acres near Interstate 15 and Market Street, San Diego’s 148-year-old Mt. Hope Cemetery is home to politicians, merchants and local icons with names like Horton, Marston and Sessions. The cemetery sits in Mt. Hope, one of the neighborhoods in San Diego’s historically black southeastern section.
The cemetery is unusual in a few ways. Most notably, Mt. Hope is a city-owned and city-run cemetery that serves many low-income residents.
Some local cemeteries, especially in North County, are run by government agencies that are allowed to levy taxes on the community. A city-owned cemetery like Mt. Hope is rare in California, although it was more common decades ago.
Mt. Hope has other distinctions. It’s home to “Our Lady of Shoes,” a Mexican statue of a seated woman who holds footwear and has cleat patterns in her hair. She sits at a plot where migrants are anonymously buried, set there as a memorial to those foreign dead. The cemetery also has its own “tombstone graveyard.”