As big Confederate monuments fall, smaller markers to the Lost Cause take on larger significance

Today, the SPLC has released an updated version of its Whose Heritage? report, which catalogued 1,728 monuments, place names, state holidays and other symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces across the South and the nation. Read the full report.

In the middle of the Arizona desert stands an almost orphaned monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Odd as it may seem, the Davis marker on U.S. Route 60 near Gold Canyon recognizes what is now State Route 80 as the Jefferson Davis Highway. The name is a relic from when the road was a U.S. highway and was dropped when it became a state road.

But the marker is still there, as are an untold number of other Confederate waymarkers on highways across the nation, both state-sanctioned and erected by private groups.

As the big statues and monuments come down around the country, the small private memorials to the Confederacy take on more prominence.

Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy have been putting the waymarkers up for years. The road signs dot intersections, highways and road sides from North Carolina to Arizona.

The markers aren’t bogus and commemorate real events and important places in U.S. history. But, many look like state-sanctioned historical markers. The story of what happened is told by the person or group putting the signs up — and groups tied to preserving the legacy of the Confederacy may not be seen as objective.

In North Carolina, the Sons of Confederate Veterans used the same foundry as the state for many years to produce markers on private property, giving those signs a very similar look to those paid for by the public.

That practice has since stopped, said Michele Walker, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

“The department has no way of knowing how many of these privately placed markers are out there since they are not placed by us and we don’t have any way of keeping track of them,” Walker told the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The private markers blend in with other state-sanctioned roadside commemorations of historic events and places. Some of those even memorialize the Civil War and one, in the central Louisiana town of Colfax, marks the “Colfax Riot,” an event that ended on April 13, 1873 with three white supremacists and 150 African Americans killed as the town sought to end Reconstruction after the Civil War.

The marker, put up by the state in 1950, remains standing outside the Grant Parish courthouse to this day and notes the end of “carpetbag misrule in the South.”

Bill Sherman, the communications director for the Louisiana Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said there are few records about the marker and the department hasn’t received any requests to remove it.

Efforts to remove the Jefferson Davis memorial in Arizona appear to be going nowhere.

Arizona’s Highway Commission gave the state’s portion of U.S. Route 80 the “Jefferson Davis National Highway” designation, but the federal government never recognized the new moniker.

When the road was renamed State Route 80 in 1989, the Jefferson Davis name was officially dropped.

"It was Kafka-esque," Josselyn Berry of ProgressNow Arizona, which has been petitioning to rename the highway, told Phoenix New Times. "Really frustrating."

State officials appear content to leave the marker alone.

“As indicated above, it’s ADOT’s position that since U.S. Route 80 was reclassified, the 1961 Arizona Highway Commission designation of the ‘Jefferson Davis National Highway’ no longer exists,” Department of Transportation Director John S. Halikowski said in a letter on October 13, 2017.

The marker in Arizona has been standing since 1943. That’s 75 years — nearly 19 times longer than the Confederacy itself stood.

And, with the battle over Confederate monuments still raging across the country, these smaller markers may continue to be skirmishes in a Civil War that never seems to end.

AP Images/Brynn Anderson