Two state lawmakers, a city councilor and others gathered on Sunday in the heart of Old Town – once the site of a Civil War skirmish – to call for the removal of a flag, plaques and other reminders of the Confederacy on display there.
The plaza is home to a rebel flag, plaques that mention the Confederate war dead and success fighting the Union Army, and replicas of Confederate canons.
“New Mexico has so many amazing, wonderful things to honor in terms of our history,” state Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, said in a news conference. “Why the city has chosen to honor the Confederate Army is beyond me.”
He was part of a group that called on Mayor Richard Berry to order removal of tributes to the Confederacy.
A spokeswoman for the mayor didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
But the city’s Cultural Services Department released a written statement that said the Confederate reminders are meant as a historical exhibit, not an expression of support.
The Confederate flag is one of five flags on the plaza – intended to represent Albuquerque’s “five governing entities” since the city’s founding in 1706, according to the city statement.
Texas Confederates invaded, then occupied Old Town for about six weeks in 1862, according to the Cultural Services Department.
The other flags on the plaza represent Spain, Mexico, the United States of America and the state of New Mexico.
“The Confederate flag is posted in the Plaza within the context of the other four flags, which, when exhibited together as a group, symbolize the history of a sequence of governments that is unique to our region of the country,” the city statement said.
The debate over the Confederate flag comes just two weeks after it was pulled down from the Statehouse in South Carolina. Its removal followed the killings of nine black church members during a Bible study in Charleston.
The white gunman has posed with Confederate flags.
Michael Jefferson, elder and founder of Procession Ministry, told reporters Sunday that Confederate soldiers, however valiant, died for the wrong cause, and their flag should come down.
“The Confederacy never ever has had a legitimate claim over the land that is now called New Mexico,” Jefferson said. “… That flag does not belong there. That flag was left there to mark the graves of soldiers who died to retain the right to own slaves.”
City Councilor Isaac Benton called the symbols a “thinly veiled tribute” in support of the Confederacy.
“I think that the short three weeks that the Confederacy was here is overrepresented on this plaza,” he said.
Acknowledging the Confederacy’s military presence in New Mexico, Benton said, “is appropriate only in the context of the larger breadth of the city’s history.”
Benton said the city should immediately remove two plaques on the Old Town gazebo and revise the wording of a plaque by the replica cannons.
One plaque on the Old Town gazebo – put there by the New Mexico Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1982 – explained the “Skirmish of Albuquerque” this way: “Though outnumbered six to one, a small detachment of Confederates under Captain William P. Hardeman repulsed the attack and maintained possession of the town.”
Another plaque simply notes that Confederate soldiers “were buried here” when the Confederate flag “was flying over old Albuquerque in April 1862.”
The city Cultural Services Department said there’s no evidence that Confederate dead were ever buried in the plaza and that, furthermore, there were no deaths in the “Skirmish of Albuquerque.”
State Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said the Confederate reminders are “offensive and wrong.”
“It’s really sad that our city would choose to honor something that has been so discredited,” he said.