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The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year sparked a wave of social justice protests, including ones targeting monuments that celebrate segregationists, slave owners, conquistadors and Confederate leaders. Since then, about 160 monuments have come down, but roughly 2,000 remain standing. 

We teamed up with Type Investigations to visit dozens of Confederate monuments and found that for devoted followers, they inspire a disturbing – and distorted – view of history: Confederate generals as heroes. Slaves who were happy to work for them. That twisted history is also shared with schoolchildren on class trips. And you won’t believe who’s funding these sites to keep them running. 

Then, reporter Stan Alcorn follows the story of New Mexico’s great monument controversy. In 1998, the state was set to celebrate its cuarto centenario: the 400th anniversary of the state’s colonization by the Spanish. But a dramatic act of vandalism would turn the making of a monument in Albuquerque into a fight over history the city didn’t expect.

This show is an update from a 2020 episode that was based on reporting originally broadcast Dec. 8, 2018.

Dig Deeper

Read: The Costs of the Confederacy, which was also featured in Smithsonian Magazine
Read: Confederate monuments topple in Richmond, Virginia, a photo essay by Brian Palmer

Credits

Reported by: Brian Palmer, Seth Freed Wessler and Stan Alcorn | Produced by: Fernanda Camarena and Stan Alcorn  | Edited by: Kevin Sullivan, Jen Chien and Esther Kaplan | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Original score and sound design by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Kaitlin Benz | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Michael Schiller  | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson | Special thanks: Research assistance from Jasper Craven, Erin Hollaway Palmer and Richard Salame of Type Investigations

Transcript

Speaker 1:This episode is supported by Deep Dive with Laura Arnold, a podcast exploring today’s most pressing issues like the politics that stymied gun violence prevention, the accountability crisis in higher education, and creating equal access to birth control. Laura Arnold shares the mic with data driven experts to examine the elusive fixes for our nation’s broken systems. Just tap your search bar and look for Deep Dive with Laura Arnold. Our thanks to Deep Dive for their support.

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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.

June 19, 1865, a union general arrives in Galveston, Texas. He informs what is believed to be the last group of enslaved black people some very overdue news, they are now free. The day came to be known as Juneteenth. As we celebrate the day this year, we want to look back at something that happened a year ago.
Speaker 3:Now Juneteenth has been celebrated in the U.S. for over 150 years, but organizers here in Richmond say that this year is much different.
Al Letson:People in Richmond, Virginia were meeting in the least likely of places.
Speaker 3:People gathered at the Robert E. Lee monument to commemorate a moment in history.
Al Letson:That’s right, people gathered at a monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Speaker 3:So tonight, there will be a candlelight vigil at 07:30 PM this evening here at the Robert E. Lee monument. This will kick off-
Al Letson:This is just one of many statues of segregationist, slave owners, conquistadors, and Confederate soldiers that tower above onlookers in a culture war over American identity and history. Roughly 160 Confederate monuments and symbols have come down since protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, but about 2,000 of those monuments remain. A few years ago, we teamed up with Type Investigations to find out who’s paying for these monuments and what versions of history are they keeping alive. Reporters Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler visited more than 50 Confederate sites, including a Mississippi estate called Beauvoir, home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. We revisit that story now with Brian and Seth at the grounds of Beauvoir in 2018 during its annual Fall Muster. Here’s Seth.
Seth Freed Wess…:Brian and I decide to take different cars to Beauvoir and spend the next two days reporting separately. As a white reporter, I blend in here where aside from some of the school kids, almost everyone is white. It had been like that at more than a dozen other Confederate sites I visited for this story, but for Brian it was different.
Brian Palmer:As an African American reporter, I stick out. I feel that people see black before they see anything else. Reporting on our own we can find out whether people will open up to us differently.
Speaker 6:Madame, next to that little tree, move back please.
Brian Palmer:We arrive in time for Fall Muster. Men dressed in Union and Confederate uniforms line up on either side of a long field. They carry rifles, and flags, and push canons into position, then the fighting begins. Seth is in the middle of all of it.
Seth Freed Wess…:I look around to see who’s here, 500 people maybe sit in bleachers or stand nearby. Families with young children carry Confederate flags. Old bearded men wear biker vests with these Sons of Confederate Veterans patches sewn on. Two younger men wear Army camouflage.
Brian Palmer:Some people want to talk to me. They tell me stories of loyal slaves and so called black Confederates. I make sure to keep my distance from Seth so he can do his thing and I can do mine.
Speaker 7:Run, Yankees! Run! Run!
Seth Freed Wess…:I meet an older couple from Virginia who tell me they drove down to support the flag and celebrate their heritage. They love it here.
Speaker 8:This is the lady I mentioned.
Seth Freed Wess…:And they want me to meet someone.
Speaker 9:I’m sorry [crosstalk].
Seth Freed Wess…:Her name is Susan Hathaway.
Speaker 8:She is the founder.
Seth Freed Wess…:Hello.
Susan Hathaway:Hi.
Seth Freed Wess…:How are you? So I… Just remind me, you’re the founder of?
Susan Hathaway:The Virginia Flaggers.
Seth Freed Wess…:Oh, wow.

The Virginia Flaggers is a group that protests whenever they hear of plans to remove Confederate statues and flags.
Susan Hathaway:On the hallways, mega battle flags all over Virginia.
Seth Freed Wess…:Anywhere a monument is being debated. And for Hathaway, this place, Beauvoir, is hallowed ground.
Susan Hathaway:It’s just kind of a holy place for us with Confederate ancestry and the things they’ve done here are just amazing. To be able to walk where Jefferson Davis walked.
Seth Freed Wess…:Do you think of it that way as a kind of-
Susan Hathaway:Absolutely. As a place where we can come and express our appreciation and our love of our heritage without having anybody to sit here and try to tell us what they think it’s about and what we need to do. And if they would just leave us alone, we would be fine.
Seth Freed Wess…:… Do-
Susan Hathaway:God save the South! Woo!
Seth Freed Wess…:At this point, I’m kind of at a loss for words. It sounds like she’s saying that the federal government should just leave the South alone. As I look around at the crowd, it’s clear to me that she’s only talking about one part of the South, the white South.
Susan Hathaway:We’re proud to be Southern. It’s like southern is the only thing you’re not allowed to be proud of anymore. You can be proud to be African American, you can be proud to be Irish American, you can be proud, but you can’t be proud to be Confederate American or to say you’re even from the South.
Brian Palmer:This is a message Seth and I heard not just here, but at a number of Confederate sites we visited, including a cemetery in Virginia and a library in Alabama. One thing they had in common, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which also owns Beauvoir. The Sons is a national organization with dozens of chapters founded in 1896. Only male descendants of Confederate veterans can join. The group’s mission is to vindicate the cause that Confederates fought for.

During the mock battle, we see their version of history play out. Musket crack, units advance, and men fall down dead in the field. The Confederates beat back the Union troops. No actual Civil War battle took place here, but at Beauvoir the Confederacy always wins.
Seth Freed Wess…:The next day, Brian and I returned to Beauvoir. It’s raining hard and the Muster is canceled, so we get a chance to interview Thomas Payne who was then Beauvoir’s Executive Director. His assistant meets us at the door.

All right, great.
Speaker 11:Hi, how are you?
Seth Freed Wess…:Hi, how are you?
Speaker 11:I didn’t know you all were together.
Seth Freed Wess…:We [crosstalk]. We operate separately.
Brian Palmer:We enter Payne’s office.
Thomas Payne:That rifle right there, that’s the oldest thing in here.
Seth Freed Wess…:An old rifle hangs on the wall to his right, pictures of Confederate leaders are behind him, and a set of three flags, Mississippi, American, and Confederate are planted on his desk.
Brian Palmer:Payne is a white man in his 60s with a salt and pepper mustache. He’s a lawyer with a PhD in Adult Education. He’s not a member of The Sons of Confederate Veterans, but he tells us he’s eligible to be one. He just works for them.
Thomas Payne:Beauvoir is not just a place, it’s a place in time. You should be feeling like you’re actually walking back in time as a witness to what took place. I want this to be an educational institution that tells the truth and then people will come here, know that they can depend on the information that they’re getting, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Seth Freed Wess…:We already knew what kind of information Payne was talking about because the day before our interview I shelled out my $12.50 to take a tour of the house where Davis lived in his final years.
Donna Barnes:Look at the chairs how short and close to the ground they are.
Seth Freed Wess…:Donna Barnes is the guide. She wears a full Gone with the Wind dress and as you’ll hear, she has a Scarlet O’Hara view of the Civil War.
Donna Barnes:Look from the wall to the ceiling, looks like some of the most beautiful crown molding, rich with color, and beautiful to see.
Seth Freed Wess…:We experience this at site after site, places where Confederate leaders who were slave holders once lived. Minute details about the furnishings, but near silence about slavery.

It’s interesting to me that, that’s not built into the tour. Why isn’t it?
Donna Barnes:I don’t know, I guess because you cannot say… I guess because I’d be here all day if I told everything about the Davises. Thank you all so much for coming.
Seth Freed Wess…:Donna and I step out and I ask her how she answers questions from tourists about slavery.
Donna Barnes:I want to tell them the honest truth about it, that slavery was good and bad. It was good for the people who didn’t know how to take care of themself and they needed a job, and you had good slave owners like Jefferson Davis who took care of his slaves and treated them like family. He loved them.
Seth Freed Wess…:They were not family, they were property. Jefferson Davis who led a would be nation created to defend slavery owned dozens of people, black people. And this place, the historic Beauvoir Estate, was built with enslaved labor.
Brian Palmer:The idea that Davis’ slaves were happy echoes through his memoir, which he wrote in this very house. In speaking about African Americans he said, “Their servile instincts render them contented with their lot.” This idea, which is perhaps too controversial to hang on the walls, still hangs in the air here.
Seth Freed Wess…:And Brian and I encountered it at other Confederate sites we visited where to this day Confederate leaders are portrayed as benign and beloved by those they held in bondage. Not only distorting history, but denying the lived experience of millions of enslaved people.
Brian Palmer:My own great grandparents were among those millions, both of them. Matt and Julia Palmer escaped slavery in Virginia. Matt joined the United States Colored Troops, the U.S. Army’s segregated black fighting force. Julia and her family fled to Union held territory. They emancipated themselves like half a million others before the war’s end.

We wanted to know why history was still being erased and distorted here. These are the questions we had for Beauvoir’s then Executive Director, Thomas Payne.
Thomas Payne:I do think we need to talk more about slavery and the reason I got that was not from kids, we have a lot of our young kids who come here and they want to know where the whipping post was at. And the way we handle that, since they’re young kids, we don’t have a whipping post.
Brian Palmer:So what I hear him saying is that we can’t talk about slavery at all because kids can’t handle it, but what about those Civil War battles? We watched a lot of people fall down playing dead in a field, that kind of violence that glorifies the Confederacy is a-okay here. But the violence slavery, Beauvoir steers clear of that.
Thomas Payne:We’re judging a lot of what happened in the 19th century with our 20 and 21st century glasses, so to speak. We’re looking through lenses of the 20 and 21st century and saying, “Oh, that’s terrible.”
Brian Palmer:We’ve heard this before. You can’t judge slavery by today’s standards, but we don’t need to. Abolitionists, including the formerly enslaved, argued against the system while it was happening for the same reason we argue against it today, it was wrong. And yet, Payne defends Davis.
Thomas Payne:I think that would be an honest perception that he was a benevolent slave holder.
Brian Palmer:There’s no way to benevolently own another person’s body, another person’s life, another person’s future. That phrase benevolent slave holder is straight up lost cause language.
Seth Freed Wess…:So here’s a term we need to understand, lost cause. Confederates who lost the war devised this idea of the lost cause. It’s a whole false interpretation of history designed to justify their defeat, to absolve themselves of any guilt for starting the war, and to vindicate their pre-war way of life. And this story is still being told at Beauvoir.
Brian Palmer:The larger goal of these once powerful men was to end the process that was reordering southern society, Reconstruction. They wanted to redeem their status, their power, and their control over black lives and labor.
Christy Coleman:These fantasies persist because people have to believe, they have to believe that they fought for something greater than the continued subjugation of another human being.
Brian Palmer:Christy Coleman is a long time administrator of historic sites. She was the CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia when I spoke to her. She’s an African American woman and the centers she ran tells the story of the Civil War that’s complicated, at times ugly. It includes the perspectives of African Americans, free and enslaved, and of Union and Confederate soldiers. In other words, the full story.
Christy Coleman:It’s almost laughable when I read some of these diary entries about these owners and these slave holders who are just so mortified that, “Well, Jenny’s been with me since she was six years old and the fact that she ran off with those Yankees,” and [inaudible]. “I’m just sure that they overwhelmed her little fragile mind.” But this is the same woman that you’ve had whipped several times because she has run away on her own long before the war. There was just this cognitive dissonance related to it that is really stunning. You have a narrative that makes people comfortable for the spaces that they’re in.
Brian Palmer:We thought a lot about what Christy had to say, that these places are set up to feed on people’s ignorance and make them feel comfortable about America’s violent and racist past, comfortable with a false history of America, one that honors the Confederacy and everything it stood for.
Seth Freed Wess…:By now, we’d been digging for months into exactly who runs these sites but we had another question, who’s paying to keep them open? We filed dozens of public records requests and sifted through piles of tax filings to find out where the money was coming from and we were stunned by what we were starting to find.
Brian Palmer:Tax payer money is keeping these places open and Beauvoir is a huge beneficiary. We tallied all of the public monies Beauvoir says it received from 2007 through 2016. It added up to more than 21 million dollars.
Al Letson:More than 21 million dollars all from tax payers. We checked and that money continue to flow today. When we come back Seth and Brian explain where that money is coming from and how it’s being used at Beauvoir and other Confederate sites across the country. That’s next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Before the break, we visited Beauvoir, the former home of Confederate leader Jefferson Davis. The property now houses a museum of misinformation about slavery and the Civil War. Reporters Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler visited Beauvoir and more than 50 Confederate sites back in 2018. They uncovered how public money is keeping them open. Brian starts us off running through the numbers.
Brian Palmer:Beauvoir gets $100,000.00 every year from the Mississippi State Legislature to take care of the historic buildings. Lawmakers approved the same amount last year in the same period that they also voted to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag. The biggest windfall came after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. FEMA and the National Park Service sent more than 17 million dollars to Beauvoir, but that money didn’t just go to restoring buildings. Almost half of that money went to creating a new museum and library from scratch. That’s where you hear this lost cause version of history, of benevolent slave owners, and heroic Confederates.
Seth Freed Wess…:We found that over the last decade at least 40 million dollars have flowed to Confederate sites and organizations. We visited dozens of these places and we would often hear some version of this myth that slavery wasn’t so bad. In Georgia for example, I heard this on the tour of A.H. Stephens State Park. Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederacy.
Speaker 15:Mr. Stephens was real good to his servants. He treated them like family.
Seth Freed Wess…:Georgia has spent over a million dollars on this park in the last decade. And then there’s this in Mississippi, I recorded it on a tour of a historic site dedicated to Stephen D. Lee, a Confederate lieutenant. They got $30,000.00 from the state.
Speaker 16:When it was started a lot of widows were being taken advantage of, and thrown off, and different things so there idea was they were going to be like a militia to protect people.
Seth Freed Wess…:She’s talking about the Ku Klux Klan. She told me that the KKK had been misunderstood, that the group was formed to protect widows after the war. She left out that 19 people were lynched in the very same county where were standing.
Brian Palmer:We found that a big chunk of public money goes directly to Confederate heritage organizations. The United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans. Some of that money goes to maintain specific sites like a Confederate cemetery I visited here in Virginia.

I’m entering the Confederate section of Oakwood Cemetery here in Richmond, Virginia and there’s a gentleman who looks to be directing traffic. Can you tell me what you’re doing here today and why we’re here today?
Speaker 17:Yeah, today is Confederate Memorial Day.
Brian Palmer:Not to be confused with actual Memorial Day, Confederate Memorial Day is celebrated in late April. It’s an official holiday in three states, an unofficial holiday in other southern states, including Virginia.
Speaker 17:And it’s 17,000 Confederate soldiers buried here and we want to honor our ancestors.
Susan Hathaway:I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence, and undying devotion to the cause for which it stands.
Brian Palmer:That’s Susan Hathaway, the founder of The Virginia Flaggers. She’s the woman Seth met earlier who called Beauvoir a holy place. She stands in front of a small crowd on a patch of the well tended lawn, her back to a memorial obelisk erected in 1871.
Susan Hathaway:And if you would all join me in singing our state song because it is still our state song, Carry Me Back to Old Virginy. (singing)
Brian Palmer:I’m standing here listening to this song, which hasn’t been the state song since 1997 by the way, with lyrics like darkey and massa. I’m the great grandson of enslaved people in a cemetery that borders an African American neighborhood. All of this is strange. I understand that cemeteries were and are memorial sites, places of mourning, but right after the Civil War these burial grounds as well as monuments became central to the politics of those white southerners trying to rebuild their pre-war power. Another way they reclaim that power, they stripped black people of their newly won right to vote.
Ibram X. Kendi:Black people had largely been driven violently from the polls. Very, very few black people could vote.
Seth Freed Wess…:That’s Ibram X. Kendi, he’s the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research.
Ibram X. Kendi:Very simply, black people did not have the ability to vote out of office people who were advancing public policies to build Confederate monuments.
Brian Palmer:Money from the Commonwealth of Virginia has continued to flow to these burial grounds and monuments and they’ve become pilgrimage sites for Confederate sympathizers and white supremacists. Professor Kendi says, “When public dollars go to Confederate monuments, we all support what they stand for.”
Ibram X. Kendi:Investing a single dollar in Confederate monuments is essentially investing dollars in racism, and slavery, and white supremacy.
Brian Palmer:So how much money has the public invested in Confederate cemeteries in Virginia? We went digging in the state’s official archive, The Library of Virginia. We read through more than 100 years of legislative reports all the way back to 1902. We found that Virginia tax payers have spent about nine million in today’s dollars to fund organizations set up to take care of Confederate graves.
Speaker 19:[inaudible].
Brian Palmer:Some of that money is channeled to The Sons of Confederate Veterans. Seth met up with members of the group at the same cemetery I visited.
Seth Freed Wess…:How are you, sir? This is your ancestor’s grave?
Speaker 20:Well, we look after of course all of them that we can, but that happens to be a cousin, yes.
Seth Freed Wess…:I’m here with five men. Edwin Ray is a long time member of The Sons of Confederate Veterans and until he retired he was a research librarian at The Library of Virginia.
Edwin Ray:People talk about the lost cause like we’re adhering to some sort of myth or something. Well, that’s not the case. We are remembering the way things were supposed to be and if we lose this style of government that was handed down to us, then it is a lost cause.
Seth Freed Wess…:These men draw on carefully constructed myths about the Confederacy, and about slavery, and fundamentally, about white innocence.
Kent Morris:Now granted, I’m sure there’s a few plantation owners that treated their people bad, but the greater majority of them didn’t. Would you go buy a brand new car, and take it home, and beat it up with a hammer? You know? To buy a slave back then was like buying a car today. It cost a lot of money.
Seth Freed Wess…:That’s Kent Morris. He’s wearing a white bandana, and a white t-shirt, with a Southern Heritage Defense Team logo on it. Brian and I have met a lot of Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia, in Alabama, in Kentucky, and Mississippi. They make a point to distance themselves from white supremacists, but white supremacists, including the KKK and more recently Unite the Right, have used Confederate sites as rallying points.
Kent Morris:If you let an inanimate object, like a piece of granite, or marble, or whatever, if that hurts your feelings, you got troubles. You know?
Seth Freed Wess…:Morris tells me that if African Americans don’t like Confederate monuments, they should just build their own.
Kent Morris:Do the same thing that our ancestors did, get up enough money, find a place to build it, and build your own. You know?
Seth Freed Wess…:But one way his ancestors got up enough money was by using their political power to channel tax payers dollars to Confederate cemeteries and other sites across the South. African American leaders have tried to stop that flow of public money from the start. Edwin Ray tells me that losing their memorial sites could lead to violence.
Edwin Ray:Our preference is to fight these battles in court as we have and at the ballot box. We don’t want to go to war with anybody, but our ancestors had to do that and if we’re half the men they were it may come to a time when we have to do that as well.
Al Letson:That warning about violence came in 2018 when Seth and Brian originally reported this story. Things have changed dramatically since then in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the January 6th sacking of the U.S. Capitol, and the inauguration of a new President. Brian lives in Richmond and he’s been reporting on how that city, whose identity is entwined with the Confederacy, has responded over the last year.
Brian Palmer:After the murder of George Floyd last year, protestors calling for justice and the removal of Confederate monuments filled the streets of Richmond as they did in cities across the country. Last summer, protestors toppled four statues from Christopher Columbus to Jefferson Davis. Richmond Mayor, Levar Stoney, also stepped in and invoked emergency powers. Last July, he ordered the removal of all city owned Confederate statues, the four on Monument Avenue, and others across Richmond.
Mayor Levar Sto…:The great weight of that burden has fallen on our residents of color. By removing them, we can begin to heal and focus all our attention on our future.
Brian Palmer:That same day, Stoney sent the cranes to the iconic statue of Confederate General Thomas J. Stonewall Jackson. The crowd waited for hours through hot sun and then a torrential rain storm, but when the last bolt that held Stonewall and his horse to the pedestal was cut the thousands of people who remained cheered.

For more than 100 years these statues have towered over a city that has always had a large African American community. I spoke to Anna Edwards, a longtime advocate for protecting African American historic sties. I asked her what she says to Confederate monument defenders who accuse protestors of vandalism and defacement.
Anna Edwards:We have people who have shown their extreme frustration and their displeasure on inanimate objects, on property, right? That’s not attacking lives because in fact, their whole call is for the defense of human life. Pay attention to that.
Brian Palmer:All of the city owned statues on Monument Avenue have now been removed, but one owned by the state remains. Robert E. Lee makes his last stand on this four lane boulevard. The governor ordered the statue removed last year, but its defenders are fighting that in court.
Al Letson:Thanks to Brian Palmer, Seth Freed Wessler, and Type Investigations for bringing us that story. Fernanda Camarena produced the original story and Najib Aminy produced our update. When we come back, another debate over monuments that pits neighbor against neighbor. This is Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
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Al Letson:For the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Monuments that activists targeted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last year, they weren’t all of Confederates, some were of Spaniards who first colonized North America hundreds of years before the Civil War. In 2018, Reveal’s Stan Alcorn reported on some of these monuments in New Mexico. We’re going to bring you that story then tell you what happened since. Here’s Stan.
Stan Alcorn:When Nora Naranjo Morse got the call to help what would become the most controversial monument in New Mexico history, she was in the place she’s most comfortable, the studio where she makes her art.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:I mean, who wouldn’t want to be here, right? In this studio with the fireplace and the rain.
Stan Alcorn:It was 1997 and the Director of Public Art for the City of Albuquerque was on the phone asking if she wanted to be part of a tri-cultural collaboration. There’d be a Hispanic artist, and Anglo artist, and he hoped Nora, a Tewa Indian artist from Santa Clara Pueblo.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:The call was so out of the blue. This was a public art project, I’d never done public art really. This was with other people, I had been working solo.
Stan Alcorn:And did you say yes right then or do you remember how the phone call-
Nora Naranjo Mo…:I said, “Yes.” I said yes right away because I opened my mouth and I said yes and then afterwards I thought, oh, I wonder what this is going to be like.
Stan Alcorn:… The assignment was to create a memorial for the Cuarto Centenario, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the state’s first Spanish colony and of its founder, Juan de Oñate. (singing)

Nora knew of an Oñate printing company, she’d driven down Oñate Street. There’s an equestrian statue of Oñate in full armor on the side of a highway near her house, but what she remembers actually learning about Oñate, the historical figure, from her middle school social studies teacher was just that he was a kind of Spanish founding father.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:And by the time I was in junior high and I was seeing this stuff, I thought it was okay to ask questions.
Stan Alcorn:What was the question you asked?
Nora Naranjo Mo…:Well, where are the Indians in this? And he got sort of beet red and he told me to be quiet and sit down. I never forgot it. It was one of those seminal moments where I realized oh, I can’t ask these questions because they’ll make somebody in a place of authority uncomfortable.
Stan Alcorn:You can’t answer Nora’s question without talking about Acoma, it’s one of dozens of Pueblos as the Spanish called Native American settlements that Oñate encountered in New Mexico. The year after he founded the first colony some of his men went to Acoma demanding food, and 13 of them were killed. In response, Oñate declared a war of blood and fire. His soldiers killed hundreds of Acoma men, women, and children, and Oñate himself sentenced the adults to 20 years of slavery and the adult men to have one foot chopped off.

This was this history that Nora, and I, and anyone in New Mexico who followed the news was about to learn in detail. Because within a couple weeks of Nora’s phone call, an envelope showed up on the desk of Larry Calloway, a columnist at the Albuquerque Journal.
Larry Calloway:It was sort of a combination of a press release, and a ransom note, and a photo.
Stan Alcorn:The photo was a Polaroid of a bronze boot and spur that had been chopped off the Oñate statue near Nora’s house.
Larry Calloway:And I read the note and it said, “We took the liberty of removing Oñate’s right foot on behalf of our brothers and sisters at Acoma Pueblo. We will be melting this foot down and casting small medallions to be sold to those who are historically ignorant.”
Stan Alcorn:The note went on to say they’d done it for the 400th anniversary of the quote, “Unasked for exploration of our land.” In other words, the point was to spoil the party that Nora had just become a part of. And when Larry’s story came out, and it was picked up by NPR and the New York Times, that is exactly what happened.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:I still didn’t see the storm that was coming. It was still in its infancy.
Stan Alcorn:Conchita Lucero was one of the founding members of group that would fight for the Oñate statue as the New Mexico Hispanic Culture Preservation League. And for them, Oñate filled a different kind of gap in the history books.
Conchita Lucero:When I was a child, at 10 years of age I asked my grandmother, who was a school teacher, I was reading the American history books, I said, “Did our people do anything?” That’s how I felt.
Stan Alcorn:All Conchita knew was that her family had been in New Mexico for centuries, way longer than the Anglo classmates who called people like her, “Dirty Mexicans.” But it wasn’t until many decades later, after she retired and joined a local genealogical society that she started learning history by studying her family tree. She found some Native American ancestors, but she was most excited about the ones who came from Europe way back in the 16th century, like one of Oñate’s captains.
Conchita Lucero:You’d start finding your family members and you were going, “Wow, I never knew they did all of this.”
Stan Alcorn:Did it change how you saw yourself?
Conchita Lucero:Yes. I never argued that one person wasn’t as good as the other, but sometimes you were made to feel inferior and at that point that inferiority left.
Stan Alcorn:And so when the Cuarto Centenario rolled around, she was in the group that met with the Albuquerque Arts Board to discuss a possible bronze statue of Oñate, the man they called the Father of the Hispanic Culture and Our State.

Was what happened at Acoma brought up?
Conchita Lucero:No. No.
Stan Alcorn:And was it on your mind?
Conchita Lucero:No.
Stan Alcorn:Was it something that you knew about?
Conchita Lucero:I wasn’t as versed in it as I have become. [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:Acoma today is a place where tens of thousands of tourists go to buy pottery and visit houses built centuries ago out of mud and sandstone on top of a 400 foot mesa.
Speaker 30:If you happen to fall over the edge, this is the end of your tour and no refunds will be given, so just keep that in mind. Okay?
Stan Alcorn:But it’s not just a tourist attraction. Most of New Mexico’s pueblos disappeared after the Spanish came, but Acoma survived. And some of the 6,000 enrolled members would lead the resistance to the Albuquerque Oñate Memorial, like Aleta Suazo who goes by Tweety.

What did you know about the history of your people and that place?
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:That we came from the underworld on the back of grandmother spider. We wandered the Earth and when we got to where Acoma was we were told this was where we were supposed to be. That’s what I knew, that we’ve been there forever.
Stan Alcorn:She knew that when the Spanish came they’d done terrible things to her ancestors, but it was only when the statue foot cutting hit the news that she learned it was this Juan de Oñate who gave the orders. And that Oñate was later banished from New Mexico by the Spanish crown for reasons including his cruelty to the innocent at Acoma.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:That was everybody’s first awareness.
Stan Alcorn:And at the same time, she learned the City of Albuquerque was considering building a new monument to him.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:He had been cast out of New Mexico forever and now you want to bring him back and put him on a statue? It’s still mind boggling.
Stan Alcorn:The city could see that another Oñate on a horse would be a bad look. Their solution was to add Nora to the project to make it a tri-cultural collaboration and to tell the three artists they had to include not only Oñate, but the settlers he brought and the native peoples who’d been there for centuries. But when Nora showed up to the first meeting, the other two artists wheeled in a model they’d already put together and it was Oñate on a horse. One of them suggested Nora could work on the pedestal beneath the horses hooves.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:I felt insulted. I felt hurt. I felt marginalized. I didn’t think I could do that. Although, in myself I was thinking that there was a solution, that art could tell a story that was truthful.
Stan Alcorn:It brought her back to that middle school social studies class, asking the uncomfortable question, but she was able to get them to scrap this idea and start over. And then she started getting calls from other Pueblo people. They were asking here to quit in protest.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:I didn’t do that and when I refused I think people were disappointed, but I realized that by me staying in the game I would at least be able to fight for that voice that I think was so important. Not just my artistic voice, but the voice of these people who had gone through this incredible experience that changed their culture completely and I kept going back to those things.
Stan Alcorn:The memorial had become this very public test of whether New Mexico was the Land of Tri-Cultural Harmony that it claimed to be, but as the year of the Cuarto Centenario, 1998, came and went, Nora and the other artists stopped speaking to each other. And the project went from one artwork to two, a series of bronze sculptures of Spanish settlers, including Oñate and a land art installation that was Nora’s response. The whole thing would take up most of a city block and cost over a half a million dollars. Now the question was, did the city want it?
Speaker 32:This is GOV14 and now from Government Center in downtown Albuquerque, the Albuquerque City Council. [crosstalk].
Stan Alcorn:The Council chambers were packed. The public seating was divided like a pep rally or Congress.
Speaker 34:We will move to public comments now.
Stan Alcorn:On the pro-Oñate side was a group of older Hispanic men and women.
Conchita Lucero:John Lucero.
Stan Alcorn:Like Conchita and her husband, John.
John Lucero:Those of you that have Spanish ancestry should be angry. This is a personal attack on you, your family, and your heritage.
Stan Alcorn:The anti-Oñate side…
John Lucero:Gracias.
Speaker 34:Next.
Stan Alcorn:Was a lot younger.
Speaker 38:Good evening Student Council or City Council members.
Stan Alcorn:And more diverse.
Speaker 38:Allow me to introduce myself. I am a Chicana.
Speaker 39:And I want to express the Jewish perspective.
Speaker 40:I am a Mestiza of mixed people.
Speaker 41:Oñate does not represent the best of my culture. You are not representing me and I just want to say that I’m sorry that you and a small group of Hispanics in this room feel like they have to slam another people’s culture in order to feel pride.
Stan Alcorn:Dozens of people spoke, but at the forefront leading the movement were women from Acoma.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:Hello everybody, how are you.
Stan Alcorn:Like Tweety Suazo.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:I didn’t know that the awful things that happened to my people, happened to my people until this statue became an issue. I’m really tired of being used as tourist and our wares are the only things that matter in this community. I’m begging you, don’t do this to my people. Don’t hurt them this way, it’s not right.
Speaker 34:Thank you very much.
Speaker 42:Last speaker, [I.L.] Sanchez Davis.
Stan Alcorn:This fight had been going on for three years and people on all sides were demanding a decision. The memorial was a compromise the city councilors kept saying. Oñate would not be named, he would not be on a horse, and the alternative, not building anything, if they did that they’d be saying this whole multi-cultural, historical commemorative experiment had been a failure. So they voted.
Speaker 34:All those in favor, please signify by saying aye.
Councilors (Aye…:Aye.
Speaker 34:Those opposed?
Councilors (No):No.
Stan Alcorn:They voted seven to two to build the memorial.
Speaker 34:That motion passes.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:We worked so hard.
Stan Alcorn:Tweety Suazo.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:And it just… It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what we said. It didn’t matter what we do. It didn’t matter that we educated. It just didn’t matter.
Stan Alcorn:The memorial was quietly unveiled five years later. More than two dozen life sized bronze figures, men and women, oxen and sheep trudging up a sandy hill. And at the front, you’ll see Oñate in a cape and helmet looking in the general direction of a security camera that may or may not be pointed at his feet. And then next to all that is what looks from above like a huge dirt spiral. You kind of have to experience it, which is why I met Nora Naranjo Morse there to walk into the artwork she’s titled Numbe Whageh, Our Center Place.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:When you come down on this path, it’s symbolic that you’re coming into your own center place, you’re coming into that-
Stan Alcorn:As the dirt path spirals counterclockwise, you walk down into the ground, the street disappears behind the hills of desert shrubs on either side, then the buildings, then Oñate himself, until finally at the center of the center place if you sit down, all you see is desert and water trickling across a rock.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:And I like that very much because I think that’s what it was like a long time ago. That’s how I interpret the past.
Stan Alcorn:It’s a glimpse of a world before Oñate arrived, but it’s also intended as a confrontation between two totally different worldviews because as you walk back out of the spiral…
Nora Naranjo Mo…:This is what you see. The telephone lines, the sculpture of Oñate coming here looking North, the stoplight, it’s all there. And so you see that in some ways when they came they brought us great opportunity, but at such a high cost. The brutal colonization was forever affecting to us and I think we should never forget that.
Stan Alcorn:And she hopes that some of the people who come to see Oñate and the Spanish settlers will step into her artwork too and see what she sees.
Al Letson:Reveal’s Stan Alcorn brought us that story in 2018. If you visit the monument in Albuquerque today, you’ll see something different. Here’s Stan again.
Stan Alcorn:For Nora, it started on a Monday in June 2020 when she got an email about the equestrian statue down the road in Alcalde.

And do you remember what the message said?
Nora Naranjo Mo…:It’s happening now, Alcalde Oñate. And I knew exactly what they were talking about.
Stan Alcorn:By the time she pulled up in her pickup there was a small crowd on the side of the highway, people watching and recording with their phones.
Speaker 44:Share the video, this is something historic right now.
Stan Alcorn:They watched as county workers drove a forklift up under Oñate’s horse.
Speaker 44:And it’s coming down.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:The forklift just came in and scooped him up and just drove off down the road with him.
Stan Alcorn:The county said they took the statue down to protect it from a protest planned for that afternoon, but there was a much larger protest happening that night two hours south in Albuquerque where Oñate was still standing.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:I could tell it had the potential to be explosive.
Stan Alcorn:The Albuquerque protest started with people sitting on blankets in a park listening to speeches from people like Tweety Suazo.
Aleta Suazo “Tw…:This man had his knee on the necks of indigenous people.
Stan Alcorn:But a group of younger activists started gathering across the street around the statue of Oñate.
Protest Crowd:Take it down! Take it down!
Stan Alcorn:Where they were confronted by a group of men in camo carrying rifles, a militia founded by a former Neo-Nazi that calls itself the New Mexico Civil Guard.
Protest Crowd:New Mexico Civil Terrorists!
Stan Alcorn:This protest made national news thanks less to the militia than to a man named Steven Baca. A video shows him throwing female protestors to the ground and then after being chased from the crowd, prosecutors say he took a handgun from his shorts and fired wounding protestor Scott Williams.
Protest Crowd:Shots fired! Shots fired!
Stan Alcorn:The next morning, Albuquerque did what the county up north had done the day before. They sent workers with heavy equipment to remove Oñate, saying it was for public safety. The city put up a survey online asking what they should do next with the statue of Oñate and with the statues of settlers and soldiers that were left behind. And people ask Nora what she thinks too.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:And it’s not binary because it’s for me not that simple.
Stan Alcorn:She’s already thinking about what happens after the statues are removed, or replaced, or contextualized with a plaque, and how this piece of public art about history could still work, if people learn about its history, protests and all.
Nora Naranjo Mo…:Now whether that happens or not, that’s another story but we can always hope.
Al Letson:That story from Reveal’s Stan Alcorn. It’s been a year since those two statues of Oñate were taken down. Local government officials still haven’t decided what to do with them.

Our show is produced Fernanda Camarena, Stan Alcorn, and Najib Aminy. Our Executive Producer, Kevin Sullivan, edited the show along with Jen Chien and Esther Kaplan. Our theme music is by Camerado, Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson and remember there is always more to the story.

Stan Alcorn is a reporter and producer for Reveal. His radio work at Reveal has won awards including a Peabody Award, several Online Journalism Awards, an NABJ Salute to Excellence Award, and a Best of the West Award, as well as making him a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He previously was a reporter for Marketplace, covering business and economic news – from debit card fees levied on the formerly incarcerated to the economic impact of Beyoncé's hair. He has helped launch new shows at Marketplace, Slate, and WNYC; contributed research to books by journalists at Time and CNBC; and reported for outlets including NPR, PRI's The World, 99% Invisible, WNYC, FiveThirtyEight, Fast Company, High Country News, Narratively, and Digg. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California office.

Seth Freed Wessler

Seth Freed Wessler is an independent journalist and senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. He is the recipient of a 2014-15 Soros Justice Media Fellowship.

Fernanda Camarena

Fernanda Camarena is a bilingual reporter-producer for Reveal. She is a 10-year TV news veteran, most recently as a national correspondent for Telemundo Network's prime-time newscast, Noticiero Telemundo. A native of Juarez, Mexico, her reporting has taken her around the U.S. and into Mexico to cover everything from politics and immigration to social issues. She has been nominated for two Emmy Awards, and her investigative projects include "Las Hijas Perdidas de Juarez," which examined unsolved female murders in Juarez, and "Feria de Ilusiones," a report on the struggles of U.S. carnival workers from Tlapacoyan, Mexico. She also has worked for Univision, Televisa and as contributor for "60 Minutes" on CBS. Camarena is based in New York City.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jen Chien is a senior radio editor for Reveal. Previously, she was managing editor for KALW in San Francisco, where she also was host and executive producer of Sights & Sounds, an arts coverage, community engagement and community media training project. She has edited for podcasts including “70 Million” from Lantigua Williams & Co, “The Stoop” and Wondery. She has been a contributor to “All Things Considered,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide, BBC/PRI’s “The World,” Making Contact, the San Francisco Public Press, the East Bay Express, New America Media and KPFA in Berkeley, California, where she took part in the First Voice Apprenticeship Program. Her work has won awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc., the Religion News Association, the San Francisco Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, which named her Outstanding Emerging Journalist in 2013. Chien holds a bachelor’s degree in American studies from Smith College and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary performance from New College of California. Before entering journalism, she had a successful career as a professional dance and theater artist, teacher and massage therapist. Chien is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Esther Kaplan is the editor-at-large of Reveal, leading the organization's investigative reporting. She previously was editor-in-chief of Type Investigations, where she was part of teams that won three Emmy Awards, a Polk Award, a Peabody Award and an IRE Medal. She has written for Harper's Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Nation and many other publications. She is the author of “With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right” (New Press) and was a 2013 fellow with the Alicia Patterson Foundation. Earlier in her career, Kaplan was a senior editor at The Nation; features editor at Poz, the national AIDS magazine; communications director at Communications Workers of America Local 1180; and a host of “Beyond the Pale,” a weekly radio program covering Jewish culture and politics on WBAI in New York. She began her journalism career as an assistant editor at The Village Voice, where she became a regular contributor. Her writing has won the Molly National Journalism Prize, the Sidney Award, the Clarion Award and other honors. Kaplan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.