The Jefferson Davis Memorial Chair, which was first reported missing from Live Oak Cemetery in Selma last month, is an ornately carved stone chair that was dedicated in 1893 to the Confederate president’s memory and is estimated to be worth $500,000.
Calling itself “White Lies Matter,” the group sent a message to the Montgomery Advertiser and AL.com that included a proof-of-life type photo of the chair, a ransom note styled to look like it came from the 1800s and a photoshopped image of what its banner might look like hoisted above the UDC headquarters more than 700 miles away.
“Failure to do so will result in the monument, an ornate stone chair, immediately being turned into a toilet. See enclosed photograph,” the group said in the email to AL.com, with the photoshopped image below.
Until local media reported on the ransom emails Monday, many in Selma didn’t even know the chair had been stolen, including the local district attorney. He confirmed it with the police chief.
“Nobody knows what to make of this, it’s just really strange,” Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson told The Washington Post. “But you get used to ‘The Twilight Zone’ in Selma. Rod Serling would have a good time if he were down here himself.”
At first, the Black prosecutor thought the group was calling itself “White Lives Matter,” he said, until he realized it was “a play on words” — White Lies Matter — and meant “the exact opposite,” he said.
The group cited U.S. history as its motive for the theft.
“America’s original sin is that people were kidnapped from their homes and forced to build one of the most prosperous nations in the world, without being allowed to participate in it. … We decided, in the spirit of such ignominious traditions, to kidnap a chair instead. Jefferson Davis doesn’t need it anymore. He’s long dead. To be honest, he never even had the chance to sit in it in the first place.”
Davis died in 1889, four years before the chair was dedicated. He was a Mississippi native and had not visited Selma for decades before his death.
“Like most Confederate monuments,” the White Lies Matter email continued, the chair “mostly exists to remind those who’s freedom had to be purchased in blood, that there still exists a portion of our country that is more than willing to continue to spill blood to avoid paying that debt down.”
The chair was stolen on March 19, according to the Advertiser, the same weekend as the Selma Pilgrimage, an annual festival celebrating Selma’s antebellum architecture and featuring tours led by White women dressed in hoop skirts.
It sat in an area of the cemetery known as Confederate Circle, which holds the graves of Confederate soldiers and several monuments. The city sold the area around Confederate Circle to the UDC in 2011. Who owns the circle itself is a subject of debate, according to the Selma Times-Journal, though a sign posted in front of it says it is privately owned and maintained by the local UDC chapter.
Confederate Circle also includes a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. The bust was vandalized several times before being stolen in 2012. It has since been replaced by the UDC and another local group.
White Lies Matter demanded the UDC, which is responsible for many of the nation’s Confederate statues and memorials, hang a banner the group said it had already provided on its headquarters in Richmond The banner reads: “The rulers of this country have always considered their property more important than our lives,” which is a quote by Assata Shakur.
Shakur, as a member of the Black Liberation Army, was convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1977. She escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in asylum in Cuba for decades. From there she has written books and become a cultural hero to some Black artists, including Common and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def).
The Richmond headquarters was also targeted last summer during the George Floyd protests when it was briefly set on fire. The UDC did not respond to several requests for comment.
“We took their toy, and we don’t feel guilty about it,” the White Lies Matter group wrote. “They never play with it anyway. They just want it there to remind us what they’ve done, what they are still willing to do.
“But the south won’t rise again. Not as the Confederacy. Because that coalition left out a large portion of its population. All that’s left of that nightmare is an obscenely heavy chair that’s a throne for a ghost whose greatest accomplishment was treason.”
In a slightly newer section of the cemetery lay the burial site of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate officer and namesake of the bridge in Selma made famous during the civil rights movement.
On March 7, 1965, a young John Lewis led a group of peaceful protesters across the bridge, where they were attacked by police and a White mob. “Bloody Sunday,” as it became known, was a turning point in the struggle for voting rights.
Following Lewis’s death in July 2020, calls swelled to rename the bridge after the congressman. The debated raged in Selma for several months, Jackson, the district attorney, said.
Jackson said he personally doesn’t support renaming it, because “John Lewis didn’t support a name change.” But he knows a lot of people are hurt by the continued presence of Confederate statues and images, and he supports taking them down if local communities want it.
In the meantime, Jackson and other authorities are trying to get a copy of an alleged video the group filmed of themselves stealing the chair.
If the thieves are caught, he said, “I’m the district attorney of everybody [in Dallas County], so yes, they will be prosecuted.” Because of the estimated value of the chair, stealing it would be considered a felony. They could also face extortion charges.
“If they do display the banner, not only will we return the chair intact, but we will clean it to boot,” the group claimed. “For all that talk about heritage, they really haven't taken care of the thing.”
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