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One key backer of the Confederate memorial in Seattle? Tacoma’s mayor from 1926-1934

The memorial to Confederate soldiers was dedicated on Sunday, May 23, 1926, at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle. Tacoma Mayor Melvin G. Tennant spoke at the dedication of the memorial.
The memorial to Confederate soldiers was dedicated on Sunday, May 23, 1926, at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle. Tacoma Mayor Melvin G. Tennant spoke at the dedication of the memorial.

During the national controversy over whether Confederate monuments erected after the Civil War should be kept in place, fresh attention has fallen on a memorial in a Seattle cemetery with a Tacoma connection.

The 10-ton, circa-1926 memorial, constructed of granite from Stone Mountain, Georgia, and installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, has crossed muskets and a metal relief profile of Robert E. Lee, The Seattle Times reports.

It has been defaced twice over the years, and caretakers at the Capitol Hill cemetery where it now stands “try to keep it low profile,” Kevin Healy, who has maintained the Lake View Cemetery grounds for 40 years, told the Times.

It was not always thus.

KIRO-7 found news reports about the memorial’s unveiling, nearly a century ago (and decades after the war, like many other Confederate monuments) that describe an event politicians proudly spoke at, including the sitting governor and mayor of Seattle.

The keynote address was given by a son of a Georgia veteran: the just-elected mayor of Tacoma, Melvin G. Tennant, himself a Georgia transplant.

Tennant served two terms as mayor, from 1926-34 and, aside from this, did not leave a legacy providing much civic pride.

As a story by The News Tribune’s Sean Robinson noted in 2007, Tacoma was an “open city” in which corruption “didn’t hide behind layers of bureaucracy. It strutted down the middle of Broadway.”

At the center of the graft was Tennant, whom federal records say was on the take to the tune of $1,000 a month from liquor racketeers.

He ran for Tacoma’s mayor again in 1940 and lost, but not before he complained to The News Tribune that Seattle had taken too many of Tacoma’s civic fixtures. Then he moved to Seattle, too, where he failed in a mayoral run in 1948.

When Tennant died in 1969 in Seattle, his obituary occupied just four paragraphs in that afternoon’s Tacoma newspaper.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally

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