A group of individuals at odds with a memorial to the U.S. Confederacy near Ridgefield have organized to form a campaign under the statement of “unity in diversity,” seeking to counter the symbolism they say promotes discrimination against Black residents of Clark County.
About a dozen individuals showed up near Jefferson Davis Memorial Park Aug. 21 holding signs stating “We Support Unity in Diversity” toward Interstate 5 which the park overlooks. The park — outside of Ridgefield city limits — was purchased by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans in 2007, where a highway marker initially placed in Vancouver denoting Highway 99 as “Jefferson Davis Highway” in the 1930s was relocated, alongside flagpoles and a sign featuring a portrait of Davis.
Bridgette Fahnbulleh, president of the Vancouver NAACP, spoke briefly about what the memorial to the Confederacy meant from the perspective of history.
“I often wonder what the Union soldiers think about places like the Jefferson State Park,” Fahnbulleh said. “People flying a flag under which they died and paying honor to generals who planned their death.”
She recalled reading contemporary accounts of Union soldiers who decried the institution of slavery as a “sin,” which she said was an early concept espoused by the Black Lives Matter movement some 150 years ago.
“I want the soldiers to know that they did not die in vain; that many of us are working to
build that ‘Unity in Diversity,’” Fahnbulleh said.
Fahnbulleh recalls first seeing the park from the interstate, doing a double-take. Its existence would come up regularly, adding she was happy to see the upswell in individuals taking a stand recently against racism.
“I’ve had people say that they moved here and were scared to death when they saw this,” Fahnbulleh remarked. “This does not represent the people of Clark County.”
Those gathered included Ridgefield and Clark County residents, with activist Elizabeth Madrigal directing the efforts of the loose coalition of individuals. Alongside the signs made featuring the “We Support Unity in Diversity” slogan, she said that ultimately the movement would like to see counter signage near the park expressing a different opinion than what she and others believe the park conveys.
“They have a right to display whatever they want as private owners, but we as a community have a right to be a bigger voice,” Madrigal said. “It’s perfectly legal, but because something is legal doesn’t make it right.”
Madrigal was one of the individuals who pushed for the highway marker to be delisted from the county’s historic registry, which it was in 2017.
“It doesn’t represent what I think is the Ridgefield community. It represents a very tiny fraction of people,” Madrigal said.
Also present was Fr. Joe Scheeler, vicar at All Saints Episcopal Church in Vancouver and drumkeeper and spiritual leader for Traveling Day Society. He said the call for unity was a chief tenet of the society.
“The elders tell us that we’re all related, and the honor of one is the honor of all, and the burden of one is the burden of all” Scheeler said. Acknowledging the symbols he carried — an eagle feather and sweetgrass, which he said were symbols of peace and unity — he said Jefferson Davis Memorial Park symbolized a time of slavery and harm to the Black community.
“We sinned against them,” Scheeler said. “It’s time for more respect.”