7/1/20 – Controversial Civil War statue will remain at township park in West Michigan

OTTAWA COUNTY, MI —(Mlive) –  A controversial Civil War statue is staying put in an Allendale park.

Following a week of passionate debate regarding the future of the life-size statue in a veterans display, the Allendale Township Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to keep the statue in the township’s Veterans Garden of Honor.

The board’s action June 30 came after a long board meeting of public comment last week featuring competing viewpoints, a letter from the Grand Valley State University president recommending the statue be moved and a protest at the statue Saturday.

The monument depicts a Union and a Confederate soldier standing back-to-back with an enslaved child at their feet. Amid weeks of protests nationwide against police brutality and systemic racism, people are calling for statues honoring those in the Confederacy, former slaveholders and other controversial figures to come down.

The Michigan Association of Civil Rights kicked off the debate recently by calling upon the board to remove or relocate the statue from the park.

Dozens of residents filled the perimeter of a band shell located in the Allendale Community Park Tuesday evening to make their final case to the board on the future of the statue.

Tuesday’s vote came eight days after a June 22 board meeting where the township board heard feedback from those for and against the statue’s removal. According to Township Supervisor Adam Elenbaas, the Allendale residents at that meeting who spoke were largely in favor for keeping the monument.

During the board meeting on Tuesday, which took place outside, community members sat in lawn chairs until after 10 p.m. Flood lights were brought to the park for the meeting.

Some Grand Valley State University students and alumnus voiced concern for what the future of the statue means for the university.

GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella wrote to the township last week, urging the board to relocate the Civil War statue. Grand Valley’s main campus is in Allendale.

“Grand Valley is a vital part of the Allendale community,” GVSU graduate student Caroline Murray said. “If we want more students to come to our community, we need to do our best to provide an inclusive space.”

The board voted to form a diversity advisory committee to further discuss matters of race in the township.

“Obviously, a lot has happened in the last 20 years,” Elembaas said. “It may be time to make updates to our veterans memorial. When you try to make fast dramatic changes, you often times have people that want to dig their heels in and say, ‘I don’t want to change.”

Trustees Bard VanderVeen and Marcia Hoekstra echoed Elembaas’ suggestion, saying the memorial could be updated to include additional context or even more statues that represent the wars the U.S. has fought since.

“I believe the committee needs to be multi-generational, multi-racial, I would encourage business and chamber be involved as well,” Hoekstra said.

Elenbaas said he’s receptive to implementing a community diversity board, separate from the decision to keep or remove the controversial statue. He said he’d be interested in hearing from GVSU students for different discussions regarding ongoing race issues in the township.