Cemetery’s overlooked monument to Confederate POWs becomes center of controversy

CHICAGO — Chicago police saturated Oak Woods cemetery Sunday morning, hoping to prevent a major clash as a group of protesters demanded the removal of a Confederate monument, while an opposing group held a memorial for fallen Confederate soldiers.

Inside the cemetery, a monument many didn't even know existed now sits at the center of controversy. The 30-foot granite tower, topped with a statue, is dedicated to the 6,000 Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War and died at Camp Douglas as prisoners of war.

A group called the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” came to honor those buried there long ago on Sunday.

"I think if you love the fact that you’re free to be here today, then you have to respect the fact that there are dead who served for us to be here today," said Jenna Berstein, who came to Chicago from Tampa to show support for the monument.

Also at the cemetery, the group “Smash White Supremacy Chicago” stood outside the gates, protesting the group inside.

"We’re here to try to shed light on the side of history we want to remember,” group member Savannah Webb said.

The group suggests highlighting abolitionist, journalist, and Chicago resident Ida B. Wells, who is buried there along with black history-makers like Harold Washington and Jesse Owens.

“She covered lynching before it was really kosher rather to do that and really fought to have lynching viewed as a hate crime and not a way to establish justice in the south,” said protestor Zebulon Hurst.

The protestors called for the monument dedicated to confederate soldiers to be taken down, and a monument to Wells erected instead. The protestors also visited Wells' grave site.

"Of course we feel there should be a grave marker to mark these dead soldiers, but for there to be a 50-feet-tall statue that you can see from outside the cemetery on Emmett Till road, we don’t think that’s right,” Webb said.

Plenty of Chicago police were on hand in the event of a clash between the two groups, but all was peaceful. The two groups with differing opinions co-existed inside the cemetery Sunday.

"I think it’s a real glimpse into the microcosm of american politics. The fact that white supremacy and black independence exist in the same land,” Hurst said.

"She was a woman of her own right. With her own causes. Her own beliefs and did right by what she did in her history, just like these men believed in what they did. There’s no conflict there. This is history,” greg swiston, attending confederate service

A representative from Veterans Affairs attended Sunday's memorial service, and issued a statement saying, in part:

“VA's national cemetery administration has a long record of balancing history with respecting fallen service members and those who come to honor them.”