Letters spelling out “Jefferson Davis Memorial Park” on an archway at Fort Monroe came down Friday as part of a directive from Gov. Ralph Northam.
Fort Monroe, which is in Hampton, sits on a peninsula called Old Point Comfort, where the first enslaved Africans in English North America arrived in 1619. Events this month will commemorate the 400th anniversary of their landing.
In a letter to Fort Monroe Authority leaders in April, Northam said: “These symbols are incompatible with the message and understanding we must convey at Fort Monroe this year.”
During the Civil War, slaves sought their freedom at the Union outpost there. Davis, who had been president of the Confederacy, was imprisoned for treason at the fort after the war.
“While it is appropriate to discuss and interpret Jefferson Davis’ imprisonment at Fort Monroe, it is not appropriate to glorify it,” Northam wrote in his letter in April.
Northam’s letter notes that the park was dedicated to Davis in 1955 and the arch was erected in 1956, during the period when Virginia established the policy of Massive Resistance to school integration. The arch is a wrought-iron structure built by the Army with $10,000 from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
“Four months ago, Governor Northam requested the arch to be taken down and the Jefferson Davis Memorial Park be renamed, as a memorial glorifying the President of the Confederacy has no place at the site of the first arrival of enslaved people,” said Northam press secretary Alena Yarmosky in a statement Friday. “Since that time there has been a formal and thorough process to determine next steps, including four opportunities for public comment. Today we are removing the letters from the arch, pursuant to that process.”
The letters will be placed in the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe.