After 112 years, a statue of a Confederate soldier has been removed from Bentonville’s downtown square. Several onlookers gathered Wednesday morning as a construction crew started to disassemble the sculpture and its base.
The controversial statue was placed on the Bentonville square in 1908 and was mistakenly considered by some as a statue of former Arkansas Gov. James Berry, who took office in 1882. The statue is not of Berry, but is a common statue that is seen in many city squares and on courthouse lawns in the South. Berry helped pay for the statue, and a small plaque upon it in his honor following his death in 1913.
The statue and marker are scheduled to be relocated to a private park near the Bentonville Cemetery, according to an agreement announced in June between the Arkansas Division United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Benton County Historical Society.
The private park and associated parking, according to a statement from Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, who represents the UDC, will be named “James H. Berry Park.” Gov. Berry is buried in the Bentonville cemetery.
McCutchen said Wednesday a press event is scheduled next week at the site to unveil design plans for the park. He said the monument would be the centerpiece of the property, which will include a water feature and educational tables.
“It will satisfy the UDC’s goals of education, history and remembrance,” McCutchen said.
He said the construction of the park should begin in the next two months. In the meantime, the statue and marker will be stored at a private, undisclosed location. The Benton County Historical Society will own and operate the park and display the monument.
“We think this is a win-win for Benton County,” McCutchen said. “We think that things ought to be done this way. Where people are civil and have a dialogue.”
Jason Hendren, an attorney in Rogers with Wright Lindsey & Jennings, and public advocate for removing the statue from the Bentonville square, praised the removal as the right decision.
“The removal of the Confederate statue to a new location is the right decision, and shows that history is not ‘written in stone,’” he said in a statement provided to Talk Business & Politics. “As our community became more aware of the historical context of the statue, it grew to understand our shared history — and how to preserve and study it — in a more meaningful, inclusive and appropriate way.”
Confederate statues around the country are being destroyed, vandalized or taken down amid a national reckoning over race and police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Sebastian County and Fort Smith officials are discussing the future of a Confederate statue on the grounds of the Sebastian County courthouse. The Fort Smith School Board also voted recently to rename Albert Pike Elementary School and the city is exploring the idea of renaming Albert Pike Avenue.
Pike settled in Fort Smith in 1833 and taught school while he studied law. He opened a law practice in 1834. He later served as a general in the Confederate Army. Pike joined a petition in 1858 to “expel all free blacks from the State of Arkansas” and wrote in 1868, “We mean that the white race, and that race alone, shall govern this country. It is the only one that is fit to govern, and it is the only one that shall.”