ALLENDALE, MI — After nearly a year, a citizen committee has recommended Allendale Township leaders remove a controversial Civil War statue and replace it with one that doesn’t include a Confederate soldier and enslaved Black child.
On Monday, May 24, the Garden of Honor Memorial Committee recommended the current statue be replaced with one that consists of three diverse Union soldiers standing side-by-side in unity.
The proposed new statue would feature one white, Black and American Indian soldier each based on real West Michiganders who fought in the Civil War.
The current Civil War statue in Allendale Township’s Garden of Honor depicts a Union and Confederate soldier standing back-to-back with a Black enslaved child at their feet.
The committee unveiled its final recommendations for the statue, as well as other changes to township’s Garden of Honor where the statue sits, to the Allendale Township Board of Trustees at their Monday meeting.
It’s now up to the Allendale Township Board of Trustees if they want to adopt the recommended changes, partially adopt them, modify them or reject them entirely. That vote will potentially happen at their next meeting on June 14.
Since late spring 2020, the statue has been the site of protests calling for the statue’s removal, with some saying a Confederate soldier has no place in a park honoring veterans and still more saying the depiction of the enslaved child is demeaning and racist.
The 23-year-old memorial came under fire as other public statues and symbols of the Confederacy faced renewed scrutiny that spring across the U.S. as wider demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality swept the nation.
Allendale Township is located about 12 miles west of Grand Rapids and is home to about 26,700 residents. It’s also home to Grand Valley State University. The university’s president last summer urged the township to relocated the statue.
If Allendale trustees do decide to replace the statue, per the committee’s recommendation, it wasn’t immediately clear if the current statue would be taken down in the interim.
However, there wasn’t a recommendation from the committee to outright destroy the statue or sell it to a private resident. Some options included giving it to a local museum or historical society.
The Garden of Honor Memorial Committee was formed in June by Allendale trustees to examine the statue and recommend any changes to it and the park it sits in. At that same meeting, trustees voted to keep the statue.
The Civil War statue doesn’t sit alone in the Garden of Honor. There are also statues representing and honoring veterans of the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Gulf War.
The committee on Monday recommended the township add statues representing veterans of the Mexican–American War, War of 1812 and the U.S. War on Terror as well.
Additionally, the committee recommended upgrading signage on all of the statues to include QR codes that people could scan with their smartphones and be directed to informational web pages.
Those pages could include historical background and information about the wars, anecdotes and stories, local Allendale and West Michigan connections, a list of Allendale veterans and even interactive teaching lessons that could be tailored to different ages, committee members said.
The committee’s work was briefly halted due to pandemic-related in-person gathering limits.
The seven-member committee varies in age, racial, religious, political and cultural backgrounds, Elenbaas previously said. All but two are residents of Allendale Township.
In February, the committee presented three possible recommended changes to the statute and asked trustees for five more meetings to decide upon a final recommendation.
Those recommendations were:
- Replace the current statue with an abstract statue, such as a column or obelisk, that features statements or quotes on each side representing “various perspectives on the Civil War,” because it was a war among a country and not outsiders;
- Replace the current statue with one of Benjamin Jones, an escaped slave and Black man who settled in Ottawa County and served as a Union soldier;
- Keep and repair the current statue but place a plexiglass screen around it that displays thoughts on the Civil War as well as commentary on the controversy surrounding the statue itself.
The proposed new statue featuring white, Black and American Indian Union soldiers would have the Black soldier’s appearance based on Jones but not include his or the other soldiers’ name.
The white soldier would be based on Hiram Knowlton, and the American Indian soldier would be based on Little Feather.