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An Historical Treasure Was Recovered
By Faye Gaston

Union Springs



Each year the month of April is designated as "Confederate History and Heritage Month" in Alabama. This is a special time set aside to honor and remember those who served in the Confederate military forces who fought to defend their homes and families from invasion of federal troops. April 12, 2021, marked the 160th anniversary of the War Between the States with the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

Every year April 26 is "Confederate Memorial Day" with special programs. The traditional memorial gathering in Live Oak Cemetery in Confederate Memorial Circle (about an acre) in Selma, Alabama, on April 26, 2021, was also a time of celebrating the recovery of the stolen memorial chair to Confederate President Jefferson Davis with no damage. Confederate Memorial Circle is privately owned and maintained by Selma Chapter 53, United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

Jefferson Davis' Chair - Live Oak Cemetery

In 2011 the property came to UDC from the Selma City Council. The scenery includes a very tall Confederate soldier monument, a replica bust of Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest, (the stolen original bust was never recovered), artillery pieces, several historical markers with Confederate explanatory texts, pavers with names of Confederate ancestors, etc. It is the site of graves where most Confederate soldiers from Selma are buried, and includes a mass grave of unknown Confederate soldiers.

Jefferson Davis visits Live Oak Cemetery

On this April 26, 2021, it includes several different Confederate flags flying, a crowd seated in lawn chairs, a microphone and sound system, a re-enactor (Tyrone Crowley) as President Jefferson Davis seated in his memorial chair, and the President of the Selma chapter 53, UDC, Pat Godwin dressed in an authentic 1860;s dress with a hoop, serving as the MC.

Before the program, a host of cameras recorded "President Davis" seated in his chair. The ornately carved chair is three feet tall and weighs 300 pounds. An historical marker by the chair tells about the gift of the chair, his visits to Selma in 1863 and 1871, and that he was released from Union prison in 1867 because "by the Constitution secession is not treason", and U.S. citizenship was restored by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

MC Pat Godwin speaks with Jefferson Davis -  Live Oak Cemetery

Pat Godwin gave the welcome to all, many who drove long distances. She said this was hallowed ground, that the entire South is hallowed ground. She thanked those by name who gave donations toward the "reward fund" of $5,000 from the UDC for information about the theft. "The reward was the attraction that got the talking started" that resulted in arrests and getting the chair returned. She read a quote by General Robert E. Lee and a poem written in 1882 about Confederate Memorial Day.

During the program she added information about the chair. She said the "nightmare" news came as she just had knee surgery. She reported the theft to the police on March 19, 2021. She thought they would never see the chair again. Arrests were made but the investigation is ongoing. The charges include felony theft in Selma, possession of stolen property in New Orleans, and extortion across state lines that is a federal crime, causing the FBI to be involved.

Jefferson Davis & MC Pat Godwin

When news media asked her the value of the chair, she said $500,000, but added that its value can't be estimated because "it is irreplaceable. It's priceless." She said it was carved (by the mason who carved the soldier on the monument here) from Alabama limestone from one block in 1893. (She had told the media, "The chair was put here in 1893 (four years after his death). It was put here in honor of President Davis, to honor him for his two visits to Selma, and his recognition of Selma for our contribution to the war." The chair was dedicated to Davis by the Ladies in Selma.

Pat's husband Butch and Benjamin Austin picked up the chair the day before (April 25) in New Orleans and brought it back to the cemetery.

Steve Fitts read the Dallas County Proclamation, a perpetual proclamation for April being "Confederate History and Heritage Month", that told of the Battle of Selma and sites in the county related to the Confederacy.

Chaplain Nelson Andrews gave greetings from Col Christopher C. Pegues Camp #62, SCV, and issued an invitation to join the SCV Camp, and concluded, "By the grace of God, we got the chair back."

Benjamin Austin gave a detailed report on the theft and recovery of the chair that made the national news. He talked about the Dallas County Sheriff asking the New Orleans Police Department for assistance, the reward money, French quarters and tattoo parlor in New Orleans, and a search warrant. Street cameras in New Orleans recorded the chair being removed from storage and placed in a U-haul and driving away.

UDC President General Linda Edwards (past president of UDC Alabama division) would not comply to the demands from a group called "White Lies Matter". They threatened to use the chair as a toilet if the UDC did not hang a banner outside the UDC headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, on the anniversary of the Confederate surrender in the War, and leave it there for 24 hours. The banner included a quote from Assata Shakur, a Black Liberation Army activist wanted by the FBI on the conviction for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

She escaped from prison in 1979, fled to Cuba and was granted political asylum there for decades. The group distributed a photo to the media claiming to have used the chair for a toilet, with a man seated on it with his pants down, wearing a Union uniform and holding a Confederate flag to wipe with. A day later, the group said the chair was safe and that a similar chair was used in the photo. The chair was not where they said it was, but the New Orleans police carried out a search warrant and located it, and arrests were made. (The theft was planned last fall.) A report on April 10 said the New Orleans Police Department arrested 3 people and have warrants for additional arrests.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Grover Plunkett from Faulkner University in Montgomery. He said he was "heir to a great civilization" having grown up in the South, spoke about what it means to be a Southerner, gave quotes from the Declaration of Independence, declared our fallen ancestors are heroes, and that one must "choose" to be courageous.

In the "Roll Call of Honor" a bell was rung after each person in the crowd gave the name of a Confederate soldier ancestor and the unit he served in.

The opening and closing prayers were offered by Nelson Andrews, Chaplain, SCV Camp #62. All gave the salute to the Confederate Flag. Dr. Gerald Anderson, member of the same SCV camp. sang "Dixie" as a solo, later led the crowd in singing two verses of "Amazing Grace", and closed the program with all singing "Dixie".

(Law Enforcement involved were the Selma Police Chief, Selma District Attorney, Dallas County Sheriff, New Orleans Police Department, Eight District Detectives, Richmond Police Department, and the FBI. )