A controversial Confederate monument in Arizona honors a highway named for the president of the slave-holding states.
There’s one problem: The Jefferson Davis Highway doesn’t exist anymore, raising questions about why the privately-owned monument still stands on state-owned land.
“It took the Department of Transportation two years to figure out if we actually had a highway that existed in the State of Arizona,” said Democratic State Rep. Reginald Bolding of Laveen, a leader in the fight to remove Confederate monuments.
Arizona joined the union a half-century after the Civil War ended, yet there are six Confederate monuments here: the Jefferson Davis highway marker; two monuments in central Phoenix; and three monuments in southern Arizona, including Picacho Peak, known as the western-most battle in the Civil War.
The Jefferson Davis Highway monument, on U.S. Highway 60 near Gold Canyon, has been the target of vandals and protests for months.
But now the history behind the monument is being rewritten.
Research by the Arizona Department of Transportation shows the Jefferson Davis Highway hasn't existed for 30 years.
ADOT Director John Halikowski says in a letter to the State Board of Historic Names:
“The Jefferson Davis National Highway designation ... no longer exists .... and the highway was never granted historic status… The (Confederate) memorial is not recognized by ADOT as having an official status.”
The highway once linked to a 15-state network. But the creation of the Interstate Highway System made the Jefferson Davis Highway obsolete.
Halikowski’s letter was prompted in part by opponents of the Confederate monuments’ going through state agencies to have them removed.
The ADOT director’s letter doesn’t indicate whether he supports removing the monument.
Bolding says it's now up to the governor to order the Jefferson Davis monument's removal.
“The governor has the ability, through his cabinet, to make changes here in the State of Arizona if he’s motivated to make that change,” Bolding said.
ADOT spokesman Tim Tait said there’s more work to do before removal could be considered.
"I don't think it’s as simple as the governor snapping his fingers and saying, 'Make it so,'” Tait said.
“Unfortunately, it's a lot more complex than that."
Gov. Doug Ducey has said he has no desire to tear down Confederate monuments.
Tait said the next steps for ADOT included figuring out who owns the monument.
"It would be helpful to know who is claiming ownership of the monument,” Tait said. “If this is yours, we want to talk to you about it.”
The Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the monument 70-plus years ago.
Tait said it was handed off the Sons of the Confederacy about 20 years ago.
But no one has come forward to claim the monument despite the months of controversy surrounding it.
ADOT also plans to investigate whether the monument has any kind of historic status.
“We might have to evaluate it for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act,” Tait said.
“I’m not saying it qualifies for protection, but we have to see.”
Tait said deciding the monument’s fate would be a collaborative effort with the community and the owners.