Editor's Note, April 8, 2021: White Lies Matter, a self-described “antiracist action group” that pledged to turn a stolen Confederate monument into a toilet unless its random demands were met, has announced plans to return the $500,000 stone chair—with modifications—to the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), reports Carol Robinson for AL.com.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the group said, “As the UDC has given us every indication that they had no intention of hanging the banner, even going as far as declaring our demands, ‘fake news,' White Lies Matter has decided to move forward prematurely with the alteration of the chair. It will be returned to the UDC immediately.”
Read more about the theft below.
In March, a group that calls itself “White Lies Matter” removed the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chair—a Confederate monument worth an estimated $500,000—from a graveyard in Selma, Alabama. Now, the self-described “antiracist action group” is threatening to use the artifact as a toilet unless its ransom terms are met.
White Lies Matter emailed its demand to two local news outlets, the Montgomery Advertiser and AL.com, on Monday morning. The message calls on the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), a group that seeks to protect Confederate monuments around the country, to display a banner featuring a quote from black activist Assata Shakur at its Richmond headquarters.
The quote reads, “The rulers of this country have always considered their property more important than our lives.”
Members of White Lies Matter said that they had already delivered the banner to the UDC. They instructed the organization to hang the sign this Friday—the 156th anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant—at 1 p.m. and keep it in place for 24 hours.
“Failure to do so will result in the monument, an ornate stone chair, immediately being turned into a toilet,” wrote White Lies Matter in the email, as quoted by AL.com’s Carol Robinson. “If they do display the banner, not only will we return the chair intact, but we will clean it to boot.”
The chair, which stands around 3 feet tall and weighs several hundred pounds, was created as a monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1893. As Wallace Ludel reports for the Art Newspaper, the object stood in Confederate Circle, a private section of Selma’s Old Live Oak Cemetery, until its theft. Though the UDC purchased the area surrounding the circle in 2011, the question of who owns the one-acre circle—so-called because it contains numerous monuments to Confederate leaders—is a matter of debate, according to Daniel Evans of the Selma Times-Journal.
This maybe the wackiest Civil War memory story in a while. 20 years from now this will make a great vignette in a book on Civil War memory. https://t.co/sc8T1PwbhU— Dr. Adam H. Domby (@AdamHDomby) April 5, 2021
Gillian Brockell of the Washington Post reports that White Lies Matter sent the local news outlets multiple images, including “a proof-of-life type photo of the chair,” a ransom note written in a 19th-century style font and an edited picture of what the sign might look like when placed outside the UDC’s headquarters.
Prior to AL.com and the Montgomery Advertiser’s publication of the ransom email, many locals—including District Attorney Michael Jackson—hadn’t known about the monument’s disappearance. Jackson verified the email’s contents with the local police chief.
“Nobody knows what to make of this, it’s just really strange,” Jackson tells the Post. “But you get used to ‘The Twilight Zone’ in Selma. [Series creator] Rod Serling would have a good time if he were down here himself.”
Speaking with the Associated Press’ (AP) Kim Chandler, UDC member Patricia Godwin says, “They need to return the chair. It’s grand theft.”
More than 160 Confederate symbols across the country were removed in 2020. At least 2,100 symbols, including 704 monuments, remain standing.
Confederate memorials are often associated with the Lost Cause, a racist ideology that suggests the Civil War wasn’t tied to the institution of slavery. In truth, noted the Southern Poverty Law Center in a 2019 report, the theory honors “a secessionist government that waged war against the United States to preserve white supremacy and the enslavement of millions of people.”
White Lies Matter, for its part, maintains that members stole the statue to redress previous wrongdoings.
“Many in this country seem more concerned with violence against things than violence against people, as long as they can continue to convince themselves those people are just things,” the group tells the AP.