A Black Lives Matter group is demanding that a Chicago cemetery remove the 123-year-old monument standing over a mass grave of over 4,000 Confederate prisoners who died in a U.S. Army-sponsored POW camp during the Civil War.
Several groups, including Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and Smash White Supremacy Chicago, have issued their demands calling the memorial to the dead prisoners of war “a monument to white supremacy,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Protesters set up a vigil outside the cemetery situated on the City’s near south side in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, only a few miles from Barack Obama’s former home in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
The demonstrators carried signs and banners, one reading, “Honor Black Lives, No Monuments to Racism.” But, in fact, the monument has little to do directly with “the Confederacy.”
Supporters of the federally protected monument, which has stood on the site since 1895, note that the statue was not erected to celebrate the Confederacy, nor any Confederate leader, but instead to mark the graves of more than 4,000 Confederate prisoners who died in U.S. custody. The prisoners died at Camp Douglas, a camp for Confederate prisoners that stood for the duration of the war just south of Chicago’s downtown section. Most of the prisoners died of starvation, exposure to the elements, and neglect due to the harsh conditions at the camp.
Indeed, the mass grave and the monument weren’t even erected by supporters of the south but were the creation of the U.S. government when the city of Chicago shut down an old city cemetery where the POWs were initially interred. Federal authorities chose the plot at Oak Woods Cemetery and moved the bodies of 4,200 POWs there between 1865 and 1867.
Democrat President Grover Cleveland and some 100,000 citizens attended the 1895 dedication ceremony of the monument that was paid for by a federal commission tasked with maintaining U.S. POW graves.
A sticking point for the activist groups that want the grave marker removed is that famed black activist Ida B. Wells is also buried at Oak Woods Cemetery, but her grave is only a small marker compared to the several dozen-foot-tall Confederate gravemarker.
“We’re not against remembering history, but the monument isn’t the only way to remember [this war],” Andrew Koch of the group Smash White Supremacy Chicago, told the Sun-Times. “Monuments are erected to honor or commemorate the highest held ideals of our country, and it’s inappropriate to have this near Ida B. Wells who has a tiny grave marker.”
Koch also noted that his group started a door-to-door campaign in the majority black Greater Grand Crossings neighborhood to gather signatures on a petition demanding that the federal government destroy the POW monument.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.