On the first Tuesday of each month, the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission usually meets in a small conference room at the O.O. Howard House on Officer’s Row in Vancouver.
But this week, the commission expected a packed house and had to move its meeting to Vancouver City Council chambers.
After nearly two hours of public testimony Tuesday night, all six commissioners voted to remove a Confederate monument from the Clark County Heritage Register.
The commissioners ultimately decided that the monument — which sits on private property near Ridgefield, Washington, off Interstate 5 — failed to meet the criteria for consideration as a local heritage site.
“I just don't see where the historical tie is,” said Clark County Historic Preservation Commission member Alex Gall. “This plaque does not really fit or speak to Clark County."
The marker is part of a transcontinental highway conceived of by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913. The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway was built in honor of the first and only president of the Confederacy. It was later extended along the West Coast with two markers on either end of Washington, one to the north in Blaine, Washington, and the other in Vancouver.
The local marker was originally dedicated near Covington House in 1939 and remained there until the late '90s, when Vancouver City Manager Vernon Stoner and then City Councilman Jim Moeller called for its removal.
The marker was then relocated to the Clark County Historical Museum and placed on the county’s historic register.
In 2007, it was moved to a plot of private land, later named Jefferson Davis Park. Three Confederate flags hanging in the park can be seen off of Interstate 5.
“We don’t want to have our government sanctioning something that implies racism,” said Ridgefield resident Elizabeth Madrigal, who drove to Vancouver to attend the meeting. “We felt our community had to come out to show how appalled we all are.”
Last week, the Ridgefield City Council formally requested county officials remove the Jefferson Davis Highway markers from the historic registry.
For some, the monument symbolizes a piece of history that should still be publicly preserved.
“We will not let our history be erased,” testified Jim Hoffman, who said his ancestors were among the first non-native settlers in the Northwest. “Don't let the haters win.”
The site is maintained by the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, some of whom showed up at Tuesday’s meeting.
Garth McKinney, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he understands the concern over the markers but believes the park does not represent white nationalism.
“Rather than ask us to remove them or delist it,” McKinney testified, “work with us to include all of our histories.”
A majority of the people giving public testimony spoke against the markers and considered the park's ties to slavery offensive. Some spoke of how the monument made them feel unwelcome in Clark County.
“It is offensive as a representation of subjugation of a people,” Clark County resident Sue Marshall said.
Though the commission decided to remove the monument from the historic registry, the symbols will remain visible from the highway for the foreseeable future because they are on private property.
That likely means some tension will persist in the community over the Confederate symbols. In August, vandals defaced stone markers at the park with paint.
NAACP Vancouver President Bridgette Fahnbulleh suggested that the commission consider designating future sites that are less divisive and better reflects Clark County’s diversity.
She put forward the Community African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the largest and oldest African American church in Vancouver.
“This is our history. This is our pride,” said Fahbulleh. “This is our integrity.”