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Aug 15, 2020

Monumental lies

Co-produced with PRX Logo

The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, but the Confederacy didn’t completely die with it. Monuments, shrines and museums are found throughout the South. We teamed up with Type Investigations to visit dozens of them and found that for devoted followers, they inspire a disturbing – and distorted – view of history: Confederate generals as heroes. Slaves who were happy to work for them. That twisted history is also shared with schoolchildren on class trips. And you won’t believe who’s funding these sites to keep them running. 

Plus, the story of New Mexico’s great monument controversy. In 1998, the state was set to celebrate its cuarto centenario: the 400th anniversary of the state’s colonization by the Spanish. But a dramatic act of vandalism would turn the making of a monument in Albuquerque into a fight over history the city didn’t expect.

This show has been updated with new reporting, based on a show that originally was broadcast Dec. 8, 2018

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Credits

Our Partner

Reported by: The story on Confederate monuments was reported by Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler. The story on the Oñate statue was reported by Stan Alcorn.
Produced by: The story on Confederate monuments was produced by Fernanda Camarena and Najib Aminy. The story on the Oñate statue was produced by Stan Alcorn.
Lead producer: Najib Aminy
Edited by: Kevin Sullivan. The story on the Oñate statue was edited by Jen Chien.
Production manager: Najib Aminy
Production assistance: Amy Mostafa
Sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Aruda
Mixing: Jim Briggs and Fernando Aruda
Special thanks to our partner on this show, Type Investigations.
Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan
Host: Al Letson
Other: Research assistance from Jasper Craven, Erin Hollaway Palmer, Richard Salame of Type Investigations.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: Hey Al Letson here. And we love and value our listeners who tune in every week to hear new stories. We know that sometimes one episode just isn't enough, that's why we've been so excited to bring you American Rehab our very first serial. Throughout the last several weeks, we've been sharing what we learned from a three year investigation into drug and alcohol treatment programs across the country. Every episode takes time and money. Reveal is a nonprofit newsroom supported by listeners like you. If you value the show and are able, please support the work we do with a $9 monthly donation.

 

Al Letson: You'll become a Reveal member and you'll receive our face mask with the word facts on it, because as a Reveal listener, we know you value getting the facts. To get yours, just texts Reveal to 474747. You can text stop at any time. Standard data rates apply, again, that's Reveal to 474747 to support Reveal today and remember the only way forward is together. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. It's been nearly three months since George Floyd died in police custody and the protests are still going strong.

 

Speaker 2: I can't breathe [inaudible 00:01:29]. Imagine how George felt. He had 8 minutes, 46 seconds of a kneel in his neck. I can't breathe.

 

Group: I can't breathe.

 

Speaker 2: I can't breathe.

 

Group: I can't breathe.

 

Speaker 2: I can't breathe.

 

Group: I can't breathe.

 

Al Letson: In the days, right after Floyd's death, many of the protests focused on one of the most concrete symbols of white supremacy, statues. From small towns to big cities, dozens of statues of segregationists and slave owners, conquistadors and Confederate soldiers have been removed, sometimes by public officials, but sometimes by angry crowds.

 

Male: [inaudible] taking it out to a live look, this is our Monument Avenue. We were told that the Jefferson Davis and the statue, as you can see here has been toppled.

 

Al Letson: Jefferson Davis was the Confederate president. His statue was one of many along a main Boulevard in Richmond, Virginia. The city is famous for these statues. They've been a big draw for people who visit the former capital of the Confederacy, sometimes bearing Confederate flags. Now, as these statues are coming down, you'll hear people, including president Trump continue to defend them.

 

President Trump: Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values.

 

Al Letson: But what version of history is being protected and who's paying to keep it alive. Back in 2018, we teamed up with type investigations to answer those questions. Reporters, Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler visited more than 50 Confederate sites, including another place honoring Jefferson Davis, his former home in Biloxi, Mississippi, in a state called Beauvoir. It's one of the city's most popular attractions, hosting school field trips, tourists, even weddings. As the debate over Confederate monuments heats up, we're going to re-air that story. We begin with Brian and Seth visiting the grounds of Beauvoir in 2018 during its annual fall muster, a mocks of war battle. Here's Seth.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Brian and I decide to take different cars to Beauvoir and spend the next two days reporting separately. As a white reporter, I blend in here where aside from some of the school kids, almost everyone is white. It had been like that at more than a dozen other Confederate sites, I visited for this story. But for Brian, it was different.

 

Brian Palmer: As an African American reporter, I stick out. I feel that people see black before they see anything else. Reporting on our own, we can find out whether people will open up to us differently.

 

Male: [inaudible 00:04:11].

 

Brian Palmer: We arrive in time for Fall Muster. Men dressed in union and Confederate uniforms lineup on either side of a long field. They carry rifles and flags and push cannons into position. Then the fighting begins. Seth is in the middle of all of it.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: I look around to see who's here. 500 people maybe sit in bleachers or stand nearby, families with young children, carry Confederate flags, old bearded men wear biker vests with these Sons of Confederate Veterans patches sewn on. Two younger men where army camouflage.

 

Brian Palmer: Some people want to talk to me. They tell me stories of loyal slaves and so-called black Confederates. I make sure to keep my distance from Seth so he can do his thing and I can do mine.

 

Female: Run Yankees run.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: I meet an older couple from Virginia who tell me they drove down to support the flag and celebrate their heritage. They love it here.

 

Speaker 6: This is the lady I mentioned.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: And they want me to meet someone, her name is Susan Hathaway.

 

Speaker 6: She is the founder.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Hello.

 

Susan Hathaway: Hi.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: How are you? So I just remind me, you're the founder of...

 

Susan Hathaway: The Virginia Flaggers.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Oh wow. The Virginia Flaggers is a group that protests, whenever they hear of plans to remove Confederate statues and flags.

 

Susan Hathaway: [inaudible] mega battle flags, all over Virginia.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Anywhere a monument is being debated. And for Hathaway, this place Beauvoir is hallowed ground.

 

Susan Hathaway: It's just kind of a holy, holy place for us with Confederate ancestry. And the things they've done here are just amazing to be able to walk where Jefferson Davis walked.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Do you think of it that way as [crosstalk 00:06:07]?

 

Susan Hathaway: Absolutely. As a place where we can come and express our appreciation and our love of our heritage without having anybody to sit here and try to tell us what they think it's about and what we need to do. And if they would just leave us alone, we would be fine. God save the South.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: At this point. I'm kind of at a loss for words, it sounds like she's saying that the federal government should just leave the South alone. As I look around at the crowd, it's clear to me that she's only talking about one part of the South, the white sets.

 

Susan Hathaway: We're proud to be Southern. It's like Southern is the only thing you're not allowed to be proud of anymore. You can be proud to be African American. You can be proud to be Irish American. You can be proud, but you can't be proud to be Confederate American or to say you're even from the South.

 

Brian Palmer: This is a message Seth and I heard not just here, but at a number of Confederate sites we visited including a cemetery in Virginia and a library in Alabama. One thing they had in common, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which also owns Beauvoir. The Sons is a national organization with dozens of chapters founded in 1896. Only male descendants of Confederate Veterans can join. The group's mission is to vindicate the cause that Confederates fought for. During the mock battle, you see their version of history play out, muskets crack, units advanced and men fall down, dead in the field. The Confederates beat back the union troops, no actual civil war battle took place here, but at Beauvoir, the Confederacy always wins.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: The next day. Brian and I have returned to Beauvoir. It's raining hard and the muster is canceled. So we get a chance to interview Thomas Payne, who was then Beauvoir's executive director. His assistant meets us at the door.

 

Brian Palmer: All right, great. Hey, how are you?

 

Speaker 9: I didn't know y'all were together.

 

Brian Palmer: We operate separately.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: We enter Payne's office.

 

Thomas Payne: Rifle right there that's the oldest thing in here.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: An old rifle hangs on the wall to his right, pictures of Confederate leaders are behind him and a set of three flags. Mississippi American and Confederate are planted on his desk.

 

Brian Palmer: Payne is a white man in his sixties with a salt and pepper mustache. He's a lawyer with a PhD in adult education. He's not a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but he tells us he's eligible to be one. He just works for them.

 

Thomas Payne: [inaudible] Beauvoir is not just a place. It's a place in time. You should be feeling like you're actually walking back in time as a witness to what took place. I want this to be an educational institution that tells the truth, and then people will come here, know that they can depend on the information that you're getting good, the bad and the ugly.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: We already knew what kind of information Payne was talking about because the day before interview, I shelled out my $12 and 50 cents to take a tour of the house where Davis lived in his final years.

 

Donna Barnes: Look at the chairs, how short and close to the ground they are.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Donna Barnes is the guide. She wears a full gone with the wind dress. And as you'll hear, she has a Scarlett O'Hara view of the civil war.

 

Donna Barnes: You look from the wall to the ceiling, looks like some of the most beautiful crown molding, rich with color and beautiful to see.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: We experienced this at site after site places where Confederate leaders who were slaveholders once the lived, my new details about the furnishings, but near silence about slavery. It's interesting to me that that's not built into the tour. Why isn't it?

 

Donna Barnes: I don't know. I guess, because I cannot say, I guess, because I'd be here all day if I told them everything about today [inaudible 00:10:06]... Thank y'all so much for coming.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Donna and I step out and I ask her how she answers questions from tourists about slavery.

 

Donna Barnes: I want to tell them the honest truth about it. That slavery was good and bad. It was good for the people that didn't know how to take care of themselves and they needed a job. And you had good slave owners like Jefferson Davis who took care of the slaves and treated them like family. He loved them.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: They were not family. They were property. Jefferson Davis who led a, would be nation created to defend slavery, own dozens of people, black people. And this place, the historic Beauvoir state was built within slave labor.

 

Brian Palmer: The idea that Davis's slaves were happy, echoes through his memoir, which he wrote in this very house. In speaking about African-Americans, he said their survival instincts rendered them contented with their life. This idea which is perhaps too controversial to hang on the walls, still hangs in the air here.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: And Brian and I encountered it at other Confederate sites we visited where to this day Confederate leaders are portrayed as benign and beloved by those they held in bondage, not only distorting history, but denying the lived experience of millions of enslaved people.

 

Brian Palmer: My own great grandparents were among those millions. Both of them, Matt and Julia Palmer escaped slavery in Virginia. Matt joined the United States colored troops, the US army segregated, black fighting force. Julia and her family fled to union held territory. They emancipated themselves like half a million others before the wars end. We wanted to know why history was still being erased and distorted here. These are the questions we had for Beauvoir's then executive director, Thomas Payne.

 

Thomas Payne: But I do think we need to talk more about slavery. And the reason I got that was not from... from the kids. We have a lot of our young kids who come here and they want to know where the whipping post was at. And the way we handle that since they're young kids, we don't have a whipping post.

 

Brian Palmer: So what I hear him saying is that we can't talk about slavery at all because kids can't handle it, but what about those civil war battles? We watched a lot of people fall down playing dead in a field that kind of violence that glorifies the Confederacy is okay here, but the violence of slavery, Beauvoir steers clear of that.

 

Thomas Payne: We're judging a lot of what happened in the 19th century with our 20 and 21st century glasses so to speak. We're looking through lenses of the 20, 21st century and saying, "Oh, that's terrible."

 

Brian Palmer: We've heard this before. You can't judge slavery by today's standards, but we don't need to. Abolitionist, including the formerly enslaved argued against the system while it was happening for the same reason we argue against it today, it was wrong. And yet Payne defends Davis.

 

Thomas Payne: I think that would be an honest perception that he was a benevolent slave holder.

 

Brian Palmer: There's no way to benevolently own another person's body, another person's life, another person's future. That phrase benevolent slave holder is straight up lost cause language.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: So here's a term we need to understand, lost cause. Confederates who lost the war, devise this idea of the lost cause. It's a whole false interpretation of history designed to justify their defeat, to absolve themselves of any guilt for starting the war and to vindicate their pre-war way of life. And this story is still being told at Beauvoir.

 

Brian Palmer: The larger goal of these once powerful men was to end the process that was reordering Southern society, reconstruction. They wanted to redeem their status, their power and their control over black lives and life.

 

Christy Coleman: These fantasies persist because people have to believe they have to believe that they fought for something greater than the continued subjugation of another human being.

 

Brian Palmer: Christy Coleman is a long time administrator of historic sites, and she's currently the CEO of the American Civil War museum in Richmond, Virginia. She's an African American woman and the center she runs tells a story of the civil war that's complicated at times ugly. And it includes the perspectives, African Americans free and enslaved and of union and Confederate soldiers. In other words, the full story.

 

Christy Coleman: Its almost laughable when I read some of these diary entries about these owners, these slaveholders, who are just so mortified that, "Well, Jenny has been with me since she was six years old. And the fact that she ran off with those Yankees and dah dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. I'm just sure that they overwhelmed her little fragile mind." But this is the same woman that you've had whipped several times because she has run away on her own long before the war. There was just this cognitive dissonance related to it that is really stunning. You have a narrative that makes people comfortable for the spaces that they're in.

 

Brian Palmer: We thought a lot about what Christy had to say, that these places are set up to feed on people's ignorance and make them feel comfortable about America's violent and racist past, comfortable with a false history of America. One that honors the Confederacy and everything it stood for.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: By now, we'd been digging for months into exactly who runs these sites, but we had another question who's paying to keep them open. We filed dozens of public records requests and sifted through piles of tax filings to find out where the money was coming from. And we were stunned by what we were starting to find.

 

Brian Palmer: Taxpayer money is keeping these places open and Beauvoir is a huge beneficiary. We tallied all of the public monies Beauvoir says it received from 2007 through 2016. It added up to more than $21 million.

 

Al Letson: More than $21 million, all from taxpayers we checked and that money continues to flow today. When we come back, Seth and Brian explain where that money is coming from and how it's being used at Beauvoir and other Confederate sites across the country. That's next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: Are you tired of the way media tiptoes around the subject of race? Well, Code Switch doesn't do that. The weekly podcast from NPR has been talking about how race impacts all aspects of American life for years now. It's made by journalists of color. It makes all of us a part of the conversation because we're all a part of the story. Find it where you get your podcasts and join the conversation on NPR's Code Switch.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal I'm Al Letson. Before the break we visited Beauvoir, the former home of Confederate leader, Jefferson Davis, the property now houses a museum of misinformation about slavery and the civil war. Reporters, Seth Freed Wessler and Brian Palmer of Type Investigations visited Beauvoir and more than 50 Confederate sites back in 2018. They uncovered how public money is keeping them open. Brian starts us off by running through the numbers.

 

Brian Palmer: Beauvoir gets $100,000 every year from the Mississippi state legislature to take care of the historic buildings. Lawmakers approved the same amount this year in the same period that they also voted to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag. The biggest windfall came after hurricane Katrina in 2005. FEMA and the National Park Service sent more than $17 million to Beauvoir, but that money didn't just go to restoring buildings. Almost half of that money went to creating a new museum and library from scratch. And that's where you hear this lost cause version of history of benevolent slave owners and heroic Confederates.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: We found that over the last decade, at least $40 million have flowed to Confederate sites and organizations. We visited dozens of these places and we would often hear some version of this myth that slavery wasn't so bad. In Georgia, for example, I heard this on the tour of A.H. Stephens State Park. Stephens was the vice president of the Confederacy.

 

Female: Mr. Stephens was real good to his servants. He treated them like family.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Georgia has spent over a million dollars on this park in the last decade. And then there's this and Mississippi. I've recorded it on a tour of a historic site, dedicated to Stephen D. Lee, a Confederate Lieutenant. They got $30,000 from the state.

 

Female: When it was started, a lot of widows were being taken advantage of and thrown off and different things. Their idea was they were going to be like a militia to protect people.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: She's talking about the Ku Klux Klan. And she told me that the KKK had been misunderstood, that the group was formed to protect widows after the war. She left out that 19 people were lynched in the very same County where we were standing.

 

Brian Palmer: We found that a big chunk of public money goes directly to Confederate heritage organizations, the United daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans. Some of that money goes to maintain specific sites like a Confederate cemetery, I visited here in Virginia. I'm answering the Confederate section of Oakwood cemetery here in Richmond, Virginia. And there's a gentleman who is, looks to be directing traffic. Can you tell me what you're doing here today and why we're here today?

 

Speaker 13: Yeah. Today it's Confederate Memorial day.

 

Brian Palmer: Not to be confused with actual Memorial day Confederate Memorial day is celebrated in late April. It's an official holiday in three States, an unofficial holiday in other Southern States, including Virginia.

 

Speaker 13: And it's a 17,000 Confederate soldiers buried here and we want to honor our ancestors.

 

Susan Hathaway: I salute the Confederate flag with the affection reverence and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands.

 

Brian Palmer: That's Susan Hathaway, the founder of the Virginia Flaggers. She's the woman Seth met earlier, who called Beauvoir a holy place. She stands in front of a small crowd on a patch of the well tended lawn, her back to a Memorial obelisk erected in 1871.

 

Susan Hathaway: And if you would all join me in singing our state song because it is still our state song. Carry Me Back to Old Virginia. (singing).

 

Brian Palmer: I'm standing here listening to the song, which hasn't been the state song since 1997, by the way, with lyrics like darkey and Massa. I'm the great grandson of enslaved people in a cemetery that borders an African American neighborhood. All of this is strange. I understand that cemeteries were and are Memorial sites, places of mourning, but right after the civil war, these burial grounds, as well as monuments became central to the politics of those white southerners, trying to rebuild their pre-war power. Another way they reclaim that power, they stripped black people of their newly won right to vote.

 

Ibram X. Kendi: Black people had largely been driven violently from the polls. Very, very few black people could vote.

 

Brian Palmer: That's Ibram X. Kendi, he's director of the Anti-racist Research and Policy Center at American University.

 

Ibram X. Kendi: Very simply black people did not have the ability to vote out of office people who were advancing public policies to build Confederate monuments.

 

Brian Palmer: Money from the Commonwealth of Virginia has continued to flow to these burial grounds and monuments, and they become pilgrimage sites for Confederate sympathizers and white supremacists. Professor Kendi says when public dollars go to Confederate monuments, we all support what they stand for.

 

Ibram X. Kendi: Investing a single dollar in Confederate monuments is essentially investing dollars in racism and slavery and in white supremacy.

 

Brian Palmer: So how much money has the public invested in Confederate cemeteries in Virginia? We went digging in the state's official archive, the library of Virginia. We read through more than 100 years of legislative reports all the way back to 1902. We found that Virginia taxpayers have spent about 9 million in today's dollars to fund organizations set up to take care of Confederate graves. Some of that money is channeled to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Seth met up with members of the group at the same cemetery I visited.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: How are you, sir? This is your ancestor's grave.

 

Male: Well, we look after of course all of them that we can, but that happens to be a cousin, yes.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: I'm here with five men. Edwin Ray is a long time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and until he retired, he was a research librarian at the library of Virginia.

 

Edwin Ray: People talk about the lost cause. I mean like we're adhering to some sort of myth or something. Well, that's not the case. We are remembering the way things were supposed to be. And if we lose this style of government that was handed down to us, then it is a lost cause.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: These men draw on carefully constructed myths about the Confederacy and about slavery and fundamentally about white innocence.

 

Kent Morris: [inaudible] granted I'm sure there's a few plantation owners that treated people bad, but the greater majority of them didn't. Would you go buy a brand new car and take it home and beat it up with a hammer? I mean to buy a slave back then was like buying a car today, cost a lot of money.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: That's Kent Morris, he's wearing a white bandana and a white T-shirt with a Southern heritage defense team logo on it. Brian and I have met a lot of Sons of Confederate Veterans. In Virginia, in Alabama and Kentucky and Mississippi. They make a point to distance themselves from white supremacists, but white supremacists, including the KKK and more recently Unite The Right have used Confederate sites as rallying points.

 

Kent Morris: If you let an inanimate object like a piece of granite or marble or whatever, if that hurts your feelings, you got troubles.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: Morris tells me that if African Americans don't like Confederate monuments, they should just build their own.

 

Kent Morris: Do the same thing that our ancestors did. Get up enough money, find a place to build it and build your own.

 

Seth Freed Wess...: But one way his ancestors got up enough money was by using their political power to channel taxpayer dollars to Confederate cemeteries and other sites across the South. African American leaders have tried to stop that flow of public money from the start. Edwin Ray tells me that losing their Memorial sites could lead to violence.

 

Edwin Ray: Our preference is to fight these battles in court as we have, and at the ballot box, we don't want to go to war with anybody. But our ancestors had to do that, then if we're half the men they were, that may come to a time when we have to do that as well.

 

Al Letson: That warning about violence came in 2018 and Seth and Brian originally reported the story. Things have changed dramatically since then in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody. Brian lives in Richmond, and he's been reporting on how that city whose identity is intertwined with the Confederacy has responded in the last few months.

 

Brian Palmer: For a long time, more than a century, really removing these monuments seemed impossible. There were resolutions, protests, meetings and commissions and little came of these, but then the killing of George Floyd and the movement that emerged put history on the fast track. Between June 4th, when Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced the Robert E. Lee statue would come down to July 1st, protesters had already toppled four statues from Christopher Columbus to Jefferson Davis. Also on July 1st, Richmond mayor Levar Stoney stepped in and invoked emergency powers to order the removal of all city owned Confederate statues. The four on Monument Avenue and others across Richmond as a matter of public safety and as the right thing to do.

 

Levar Stoney: The great weight of that burden has fallen on our residents of color by removing them, we can begin to heal and focus all our attention on our future.

 

Brian Palmer: That same day, Stony sent the cranes to the iconic statue of Confederate general, Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson. The crowd waited for hours through hot sun and then a torrential rain storm. But when the last bolt that held Stonewall and his horse to the pedestal was cut, the thousands of people who remained cheered. For more than 100 years, these statues have towered over a city that has always had a large African American community. I spoke to Anna Edwards, a long time advocate for protecting African-American historic sites. I asked her what she says to Confederate monument defenders who accused protestors of vandalism and defacement.

 

Anna Edwards: We have people who have shown their extreme frustration and their displeasure on inanimate objects, on property, right? That's not attacking lives because in fact their whole call is for the defense of human life. Pay attention to that.

 

Brian Palmer: For now, Robert E. Lee makes a last stand as the only remaining Confederate statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond. His defenders are fighting the statues removal in court, but the scene around that statue is completely changed. Parents, particularly black parents bring their children to pose on the heavily tagged monument. Dancers and musicians perform, people have planted a garden. Others brought in basketball hoops that folks use until well into the evening. It's a space transformed from a dead zone, occasionally occupied by Confederate reenactors to the hub of a new inclusive community inside an old exclusive one. Richmonders have done more than repurpose the circle around the monument. Every day, people have rechristened the site, Marcus David Peters circle for a black man who Richmond police officers killed in 2018 while he was suffering from a mental health crisis. But even as the world changes, the money still flows, taxpayer dollars to other monuments and memorials to the Confederacy across the South.

 

Al Letson: I want to thank reporters, Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler of Type Investigations, our partner on today's show. Fernanda Camarena produced the original story and Najib Aminy produced our update. When we come back another debate over monuments, that pits neighbor against neighbor. This is Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Hey, it's Al and our show this week is the final chapter in our series, American Rehab. For years, we've been investigating drug rehabs, the same participants to work without pay across the US. We identified hundreds of places like this, but there's still more out there and we need your help find them.

 

Al Letson: If you or someone you know has experience with a program like this, we want to hear about it. To share your story, text the word rehab to 474747. You can text stop at any time and standard data rates apply. Again, that's rehab to 474747. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. The monuments that activists have targeted in the last few months, they haven't all been Confederates. Protestors have also gone after statues of Spaniards, who first colonized North America, hundreds of years before the civil war. In 2018, Reveal's Stan Alcorn reported on some of these monuments in New Mexico. We're going to bring you that story and then tell you what's happened since. Here's Stan.

 

Stan Alcorn: When Nora Naranjo-Morse got the call to help make what would become the most controversial monument in New Mexico history, she was in the place she's most comfortable. The studio where she makes her art.

 

Nora: I mean, who would want to be here? Right? In the studio with a fireplace in the rain.

 

Stan Alcorn: It was 1997. And the director of public art for the city of Albuquerque was on the phone asking if she wanted to be part of a tri-cultural collaboration. There'd be a Hispanic artist, an Anglo artist and he hoped Nora, Tewa Indian artist from Santa Clara Pueblo.

 

Nora: The call was so out of the blue, this was a public art project. I'd never done public art, really. This was with other people. I had been working solo.

 

Stan Alcorn: And did you say yes right then? Or do you remember how the phone [crosstalk 00:34:10]?

 

Nora: I said, yes. I said, I said yes, right away, because I opened my mouth and I said, yes and then afterwards, I thought, oh, I wonder what this is going to be like.

 

Stan Alcorn: The assignment was to create a Memorial for the Cuarto Centenario, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the state's first Spanish colony and of its founder, Juan De Onate. (singing). Nora knew of a Onate printing company. She driven down on Onate street. There's an equestrian statue of own Onate in full armor on the side of a highway near her house. What she remembers actually learning about Onate the historical figure from her middle school social studies teacher, [inaudible] was just that he was a kind of Spanish founding father.

 

Nora: And by the time I was in junior high and I was seeing this stuff, I thought it was okay to ask questions.

 

Stan Alcorn: What was the question you asked?

 

Nora: Well, where are the Indians? Yes. And he got sort of beat red and he told me to be quiet and sit down. I never forgot it. It was one of those seminal moments where I realized, oh, I can't ask these questions because they'll make somebody in a place of authority uncomfortable.

 

Stan Alcorn: You can't answer Nora's question without talking about Acoma. It's one of dozens of Pueblos as the Spanish called native American settlements that Onate encountered in New Mexico. The year after he founded the first colony, some of his men went to Acoma, demanding food, and 13 of them were killed. In response own Onate declared a war of blood and fire. His soldiers killed hundreds of Acoma men, women, and children. And Onate himself sentenced to the adults to 20 years of slavery and the adult men to have one foot chopped off. This was the history that Nora and I and anyone in New Mexico who followed the news was about to learn in detail, because within a couple of weeks of Nora's phone call, an envelope showed up on the desk of Larry Calloway, a columnist at the Albuquerque journal.

 

Larry Calloway: It was sort of a combination of a press release and a ransom note and a photo.

 

Stan Alcorn: The photo was a polaroid of a bronze boot and spur that had been chopped off the Onate's statute, near Nora's house.

 

Larry Calloway: I read the note and it said, we took the Liberty of removing Onate's right foot on behalf of our brothers and sisters at Acoma Pueblo. We will be melting this foot down and casting small medallions to be sold to those who are historically ignorant.

 

Stan Alcorn: The note went on to say, they'd done it for the 400th anniversary of the, "Unasked for exploration of our land." In other words, the point was to spoil the party that Nora had just become a part of. And when Larry's story came out and it was picked up by NPR and the New York times, that is exactly what happened.

 

Nora: I still didn't see the storm that was coming. It was still in its infancy.

 

Stan Alcorn: Conchita Lucero was one of the founding members of a group that would fight for the Onate statue, as the New Mexico, Hispanic culture preservation league. And for them Onate filled a different kind of gap in the history books.

 

Conchita: When I was a child at 10 years of age, I asked my grandmother who was a school teacher, I was reading the American history books. I said, "Did our people do anything?" That's how I felt.

 

Stan Alcorn: All Conchita knew was that her family had been in New Mexico for centuries, way longer than the Anglo classmates who called people like her dirty Mexicans. But it wasn't until many decades later after she retired and joined a local genealogical society, that she started learning history by studying her family tree. She found some native American ancestors, but she was most excited about the ones who came from Europe, way back in the 16th century, like one of Onate captains.

 

Conchita: You'd start finding your family members and you're going, "Wow. I never knew they did all of this."

 

Stan Alcorn: Did it change how you saw yourself?

 

Conchita: Yes. I never argued that one person wasn't as good as the other, but sometimes you were made to feel inferior. And at that point, that inferiority left.

 

Stan Alcorn: So when the Cuarto Centenario rolled around, she was in the group that met with the Albuquerque Arts Board to discuss a possible bronze statue of Onate, the man they called the father of the Hispanic culture and our state. Was what happened at Acoma brought up?

 

Conchita: No, no.

 

Stan Alcorn: And was it on your mind?

 

Conchita: No.

 

Stan Alcorn: Was it something that you knew about?

 

Conchita: I wasn't as versed in it as I have become.

 

Stan Alcorn: Acoma today is a place where tens of thousands of tourists go to buy pottery and visit houses built centuries ago out of mud and sandstone on top of a 400 foot Massa.

 

Male: If you happen to fall over the edge, this is the end of your tour. And no refunds will be given. So just keep that in mind. Okay.

 

Stan Alcorn: But it's not just a tourist attraction, most of new Mexico's Pueblos disappeared after the Spanish came, but Acoma survived. And some of the 6,000 enrolled members would lead the resistance to the Albuquerque Onate Memorial, like Aleta Suazo, who goes by Tweety. What did you know about the history of your people in that place?

 

Aleta Suazo: That we came from the underworld, on the back grandmother spider. We wandered the earth and when we got to where Acoma was, we were told, this is what we're supposed to be. That's what I knew, that we've been there forever.

 

Stan Alcorn: She knew that when the Spanish came, they'd done terrible things to our ancestors, but it was only when the statue foot cutting hit the news that she learned, it was this Juan De Onate who gave the orders. And that Onate was later banished from New Mexico by the Spanish crown, for reasons, including his cruelty to the innocent at Acoma.

 

Aleta Suazo: That was everybody's first awareness.

 

Stan Alcorn: And at the same time she learned the city of Albuquerque was considering building a new monument to him.

 

Aleta Suazo: He had been cast out of New Mexico for forever, and now you want to bring him back and put him on a statue. It's still mind boggling.

 

Stan Alcorn: The city could see that another Onate on a horse would be a bad look. Their solution was to add Nora to the project, to make it a try cultural collaboration, and to tell the three artists they had to include not only Onate but the settlers he brought and the native peoples who'd been there for centuries. But when Nora showed up the first meeting, the other two artists wheeled in a model they'd already put together and it was Onate on a horse. One of them suggested Nora could work on the pedestal beneath the horses hooves.

 

Nora: I felt insulted. I felt hurt. I felt marginalized. I didn't think I could do that. Although in myself, I was thinking that there was a solution, that art could tell a story that was truthful.

 

Stan Alcorn: It brought her back to that middle school, social studies class asking the uncomfortable question, but she was able to get them to scrap this idea and start over. And then she started getting calls from other Pueblos people. They were asking her to quit in protest.

 

Nora: I didn't do that. And when I refused, I think people were disappointed, but I realized that by me staying in the game, I would at least be able to fight for that voice that I think was so important, not just my artistic voice, but the voice of these people that had gone through this incredible experience that changed their culture completely. And I kept going back to those things.

 

Stan Alcorn: The Memorial had become this very public test of whether New Mexico was the land of tri-cultural harmony that it claimed to be. But as the year of the Cuarto Centenario 1998 came and went, Nora and the other artists stopped speaking to each other. And the project went from one artwork to two, a series of bronze sculptures of Spanish settlers, including Onate and a land art installation, that was Nora's response. The whole thing would take up most of a city block and cost over a half a million dollars. Now, the question was, did the city want it?

 

Speaker 26: This is gov 14. And now from government center in downtown Albuquerque, the Albuquerque City Council.

 

Stan Alcorn: The council chambers were packed. The public seating was divided like a pep rally or Congress.

 

Speaker 28: We will move to public comments now.

 

Stan Alcorn: On the pro Onate side was a group of older Hispanic men and women.

 

Female: John Lucero.

 

Stan Alcorn: Like Conchita and her husband, John.

 

Male: Those of you that have Spanish ancestry should be angry. This was a personal attack on you, your family and your heritage.

 

Stan Alcorn: The anti Onate side.

 

Male: Gracilis.

 

Stan Alcorn: Next was a lot younger.

 

Speaker 29: Good evening student council, our city council members.

 

Stan Alcorn: And more diverse.

 

Speaker 30: Allow me to introduce myself. I am a Chicana and I want to express a Jewish perspective. I am a Mestiza of mixed people on. Onate does not represent the best of my culture. You are not representing me. And I just want to say that I'm sorry that you and a small group of Hispanics in this room feel like they have to slam in other people's culture in order to feel pride.

 

Stan Alcorn: Dozens of people spoke, but at the forefront, leading the movement were women from Acoma.

 

Female: Hello everybody.

 

Stan Alcorn: How are you like Tweety Suazo?

 

Aleta Suazo: I didn't know that the awful things that happened to my people happened to my people, until this statue became an issue. I'm really tired of being used as tourist and our wares are the only things that matter in this community. I'm begging you, don't do this to my people, don't hurt them this way. It's not right.

 

Male: Thank you very much.

 

Female: Last speaker, [inaudible] Sanchez, David.

 

Stan Alcorn: This fight had been going on for three years and people on all sides were demanding a decision. The Memorial was a compromise, the city counselors kept saying, Onate would not be named, he would not be on a horse and the alternative not building anything. If they did that, they'd be saying this whole multicultural historical commemorative experiment had been a failure. So they voted.

 

Male: All those in favor please signify by saying, aye.

 

Group: Aye.

 

Male: Those opposed.

 

Group: No.

 

Stan Alcorn: They voted seven to two to build the Memorial.

 

Male: That motion passes.

 

Aleta Suazo: We worked so hard.

 

Stan Alcorn: Tweety Suazo.

 

Aleta Suazo: And it just, it didn't matter. It didn't matter what we said. It didn't matter what we do. It didn't matter that we are educated. It just didn't matter.

 

Stan Alcorn: The Memorial was quietly unveiled five years later in more than two dozen life-sized bronze figures, men and women, oxen and sheep trudging up a sandy hill. And at the front, you'll see Onate in a cap and helmet, looking in the general direction of a security camera that may or may not be pointed at his feet. And then next to all that is what looks from above like a huge dirt spiral. You kind of have to experience it, which is why I met Nora Naranjo-Morse there to walk into the artwork she's titled [foreign language 00:47:43], our center place.

 

Nora: When you come down on this path, it's symbolic that you're coming into your own center place. You're coming [crosstalk 00:47:55].

 

Stan Alcorn: As the dirt path spirals counterclockwise, you walk down into the ground. The street disappears behind the hills of desert shrubs on either side. Then the buildings then Onate himself, until finally at the center of the center place. If you sit down, all you see is desert and water trickling across a rock.

 

Nora: And I like that very much because I think that's what it was like a long time ago. That's how I interpret the past.

 

Stan Alcorn: It's a glimpse of a world before Onate arrived, but it's also intended as a confrontation between two totally different worldviews because as you walk back out of the spiral...

 

Nora: This is what you see the telephone lines, the sculpture of Onate coming here, looking North, the stoplight, it's all there. So you see that in some ways, when they came, they brought us great opportunity, but at such a high cost. The brutal colonization was forever affecting to us and I think we should never forget that.

 

Stan Alcorn: She hopes that some of the people who come to see Onate in the Spanish settlers will step into her artwork too and see what she sees.

 

Al Letson: Reveal's Stan Alcorn brought us that story in 2018. If you visit the monument in Albuquerque today, you'll see something different. Here's Stan again.

 

Stan Alcorn: For Nora, it started on a Monday in June with an email about the equestrian statue down the road in Alcalde. And do you remember what the message said?

 

Nora: It's happening now, Alcalde, Onate and I knew exactly what they were talking about.

 

Stan Alcorn: By the time she pulled up in her pickup, there was a small crowd on the side of the highway. People watching and recording with their phones.

 

Male: Share the video. It's just something historic right now.

 

Stan Alcorn: They watched as County workers drove a forklift up under Onate's horse.

 

Male: And he's coming down.

 

Nora: The forklift just came in and scooped him up and just drove off the road with him.

 

Stan Alcorn: The County said they took the statue down to protect it from a protest planned for that afternoon, but there was a much larger protest happening that night, two hours South in Albuquerque, where Onate was still standing.

 

Nora: I could tell it had the potential to be explosive.

 

Stan Alcorn: The Albuquerque protest started with people sitting on blankets in a park, listening to speeches from people like Tweety Suazo.

 

Aleta Suazo: This man had his knee on the neck of indigenous people.

 

Stan Alcorn: But a group of younger activists started gathering across the street around the statue of Onate.

 

Group: Take it down. Take it down.

 

Stan Alcorn: Where they were confronted by a group of men in camo carrying rifles, a militia founded by a former Neo Nazi, that calls itself the New Mexico civil guard.

 

Male: New Mexico civil terrorists.

 

Stan Alcorn: This protest made national news. Thanks lest the militia then to a man named Steven Barca, video shows him throwing female protesters to the ground. And then after being chased from the crowd, prosecutors say he took a handgun from his shorts and fired wounding protestor Scott Williams.

 

Male: Shots fired. Shots fired.

 

Stan Alcorn: The next morning Albuquerque did what the County up North had done the day before. They sent workers with heavy equipment to remove Onate, saying it was for public safety. The city put up a survey online, asking what they should do next with a statue of Onate and with the statues of settlers and soldiers that were left behind and people ask Nora what she thinks too.

 

Nora: It's not binary because it's for me, not that simple.

 

Stan Alcorn: She's already thinking about what happens after the statues are removed or replaced or contextualized with a plaque and how this piece of public art about history could still work, if people learn about its history protests and all.

 

Nora: Now, whether that happen to not, that's another story, but we can always hope.

 

Al Letson: That story was from Reveal's Stan Alcorn. Our show was produced by Fernanda Camerena, Stan Alcorn and Najib Aminy. Our executive producer, Kevin Sullivan edited the show along with Jen Sheahan and Esther Kaplan. Thanks to Type Investigations, our partner on today's show. We had research help from Jasper Craven, Aaron Holloway Palmer and Richard Suleiman. And thanks to Delaney Hall and Hannah Colton for their work on the ground in New Mexico. Our production manager was Mwende Hinojosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo Jay breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, yo Arruda, who also composed the original score for this hour, that helped from Joe Plourde, Garrett Tiedemann and Kaitlin Benz.

 

Al Letson: Our senior supervising editors Taki Telonidis. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. Our theme music is by Comarado Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva & David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember there is always more to the story.