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Montgomery Church Removes Pew Honoring Jefferson Davis

St. John's
Chris Pruitt

An Alabama church has removed a pew honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis, saying the memorial has no place in the church at a time when Confederate symbols have been adopted by white supremacists.

The pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Robert C. Wisnewski Jr., posted a message on the church website last week saying the wooden pew was dedicated more than 90 years ago at a service featuring a pro-lynching segregationist.

After learning of the pew's history at a recent planning retreat, church leaders discussed it and then voted to remove the pew from the sanctuary and place it in the church archive.

"Confederate monuments and symbols have increasingly been used by groups that promote white supremacy and are now, to many people of all races, seen to represent insensitivity, hatred, and even evil," Wisnewski wrote. "The mission of our parish is diametrically opposed to what these symbols have come to mean."

The mostly white church is in Montgomery, where Davis lived briefly before the Confederacy moved its national capital to Richmond, Virginia, in 1861.

Church lore maintained that a pew marked with a bronze plaque honoring Davis dated to the start of the Civil War. However, the pew wasn't actually installed until decades after the war, when whites were trying to maintain control in the South, Wisnewski wrote. Tennessee writer John Trotwood Moore, who supported segregation and opposed an anti-lynching law, spoke at the dedication service in 1925.

"Davis was a political figure, not a church figure, nor even a member of the parish. Acting to remove the pew and plaque is the correction of a political act," the pastor's message said.

A St. John's Episcopal online history says the congregation dates to the 1830s. Southern churches that supported secession by the slave-holding states met at the congregation's former building in 1861, and the current church was built after the war ended.

A star marks the spot on the steps of Alabama's Capitol were Davis took the oath as Confederate president. Across the street from the Capitol stands the "First White House of the Confederacy," where Davis lived for about three months in Montgomery.

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