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Changes coming to long-standing General Custer statue in Monroe

After a protest and online petition, a compromise has been reached with the city council.
Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 9:56 PM EDT
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MONROE, Mich. (WTVG) - For decades, the statue of General George Armstrong Custer has stood on the corner of Monroe and Elm street beside the River Raisin.

Dedicated to the general’s leadership of the Michigan Brigade to the battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, the downtown monument shows no mention of Custer’s part in the genocide of Native Americans, or his demise in the Battle of Litte Big Horn.

Local activist Katybeth Davis says she started an online petition to remove the statue after organizing Black Lives Matter protests in town and has always felt there has been racial tension in Monroe.

“People can look at these from two different perspectives,” she said, “and I think that’s really what Custer represents, some of the good and some of the bad in our national history.

“There’s a good section of us that hate seeing this thing when we walk into church, or take our kids to the park, and you have to explain who this guy was.”

The petition has since reached nearly 14,000 signatures.

“It ripped the band-aid off of something that’s been harboring here for so long, it got the conversation started with so many people,” explains Davis, who then took the petition to Monroe’s City Council meetings. “Both sides of the aisles don’t know they feel a certain way unless it gets discussed.”

City Manager Vincent Pastue says the engagement from both supporters of the monuments removal and others who disagreed with any change was very respectful and let to good dialogue.

“People can look at these from two different perspectives and I think that’s really what Custer represents, some of the good and some of the bad in our national history.”

Instead of taking the statue down completely, a compromise was reached Monday. The city council voted unanimously to partner with the Monroe County Museum, Monroe County Community College, National Parks Service, Native American representatives, and community stakeholders to develop a site plan for the monument, one that tells a more complete story of Custer’s life.

“It’s been a discussion over the last few meetings and its evolved to the point where we as a community have to take a look at what it represents and are we telling the complete story,” says Pastue.

Davis says the compromise is a start, and hopes the events will encourage others to be more involved in the future.

“In order to make big change, you have to start with small change, and that really starts in your community first.”

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