GVSU Chairman urges Township of Allendale to move Confederate soldier statue

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ALLENDALE, MI – The president of Grand Valley State University urges the Township of Allendale to move a Civil War statue of a Confederate soldier on display in a township park.

In a letter sent Friday to Allendale Township Supervisor Adam Elenbaas, GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella suggested that the statue be moved from the veterans exhibit to another location. Grand Valley’s main campus is in Allendale.

“First, given the discord between the statue’s educational value and its symbolism, I would ask to consider moving it around the township in a space that would allow for appropriate historical context and dialogue,” Mantella wrote in the letter of June 25.

The statue is currently located in the Township Veterans Honor Garden in Allendale Community Park. This memorial, located next to Lake Michigan Drive and 68th Avenue, features nine life-size monuments, each depicting a single soldier, in addition to the statue in question.

RELATED: Group trying to remove controversial Confederate soldier statue ‘doesn’t give up easily’

The controversial statue features a Union soldier standing back to back with a Confederate soldier, each holding their respective flag. A child enslaved is depicted at the base of the statue holding a sign reading “Freedom to slaves”.

A Michigan civil rights group, The Michigan Civil Rights Activists Association (MACRA) has called on township officials to remove the Confederate Soldier statue. A demonstration is also scheduled for Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

MLive / The Grand Rapids Press could not reach Mantella or Elenbaas for comment.

The letter comes days after the township’s board of directors welcomed public comment on the matter at a meeting on Monday evening. The next morning, Elenbaas announced the council will likely vote to keep the statue. The board is expected to officially vote on the matter at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

In Mantella’s letter to Elenbaas, she describes the university’s position on the debate taking place within the canton.

“We have a keen interest in your decision, and although our nation’s history is complex, the evil and symbolism that the statue represents to our black and under-represented community is real, regardless of the intentions of the artist, ”Mantella wrote.

More than 10,000 students and hundreds of faculty and university staff reside in the Township of Allendale during the academic year, according to Mantella.

In order to improve understanding of the issues raised by the statue, Mantella also offered to provide support from academic experts in areas such as sociology and history.

“We propose to participate in deepening understanding of civil war, slavery, inclusion and the reasons why statues like this arouse passion and pain,” Mantella wrote. “We can also discuss the role of artifacts in our journey and explore the relationship to our value and our movements today. “

Some university officials are expected to attend the protest, according to the protest organizers.

The peaceful protest is to begin at 12:30 p.m. at the statue, beginning with a song and a prayer. The group plans to have several speakers from the community.

Organizers are encouraging those in attendance to practice social distancing, wear masks and adhere to CDC guidelines.

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