Chula Vista’s little-known brush with the Civil War ended before it started when a gruff old shopkeeper on Broadway told a group of Confederate soldiers garrisoned in Tijuana and a platoon of Unionists holding down San Diego to knock it off and go back to their bases.
They did, with no shots fired.
Nearly 120 years later the War Between the States echoed again in San Diego when the mayor ordered a plaque dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Horton Plaza removed. Mayor Kevin Faulconer ordered the action after receiving a petition.
“San Diegans, especially our African-American and other people of color community, as well as the hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, should not be asked to honor our nation’s racist past, nor support the continued racism and hate we see today around the nation,” the petition read.
Faulconer did not need much convincing and called for the plaque to be removed immediately.
Davis, a slaveholder who owned a cotton plantation, is considered a traitor by most Americans, but a hero to some racist conservatives, particularly in the American South.
White supremacists, nationalists and neo-Nazis were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer was killed when an angry white supremacist intentionally hit her with his car. Her death sparked the removal of Confederate monuments in Texas, South Carolina, Florida and other states.
Thousands of San Diegans have also petitioned for the removal of Confederate monument located in Mount Hope Cemetery on Market Street. Forcing removal of the large monument will be more difficult since it is on private property as opposed to a public area.
United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization that claims to honor the memory of fallen Confederate soldiers installed the plaque and the monument. Their stated intention was to denote and honor the semi-mythical Jefferson Davis Highway, which the DOC advocated for 100 years ago. It was to start in Arlington, Virginia (the home of Robert E. Lee) and end in San Diego. Members said they installed the Horton Plaza plaque to honor soldiers who passed away in the city after the Civil War.
Local conservatives tried to retaliate by threatening to destroy the famous murals of Chicano Park. About 15 right-wingers were met with a counter protest of almost 3,000 defenders of Chicano Park who formed human chains around each mural. One defender was 78-year-old artist Salvador Barajas, who linked arms with friends and family around the Border Angels mural he recently painted.
“Those guys will have to come through me first,” said the sprightly Air force veteran without a hint of jest.
Border Angels founder Enrique Morones said the Confederate monuments should all come down.
“We cannot have these symbols of hate,” he said. “That’s not what freedom of speech is all about.”
Morones said symbols of hate should not be celebrated in public places. He and others have fought for the removal of a statue of former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, also located in Horton Plaza. Like the plaque, Morones said, the Wilson statue symbolizes hate and oppression. Wilson advocated for Proposition 209 when he was governor of California, an anti-Latino ballot measure struck down by voters. Morones said that they would continue to protect Chicano Park from aggressors like the local white supremacists.
Governing Board President Tim Nader and college president Dr. Kindred Murillo released a joint statement on behalf of the college.
“We are deeply saddened by the hate speech and violence in Charlottesville this weekend,” they said. “It has only strengthened our resolve to actively engage in Southwestern College’s year-long ‘Inclusion Matters’ dialog and training opportunities.”
Dr. Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, agreed.
“As we have seen recently, an old and vile menace has visited some college campuses across the country to spread hatred and terror,” he said. “The California Community Colleges denounce white supremacists such as the KKK and neo-Nazi groups that seek to incite violence and attack core values of human dignity. As the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, these groups are drawn to college settings because our campuses reflect the highest ideals of human rights, including free speech.”