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Bellingham removes signs on bridge named for Confederate general

City officials on Friday removed signs identifying Pickett Bridge at Prospect and Dupont streets, as well as directional signs leading to The Pickett House.

Officials said the move was in light of last Saturday’s violent clash in Charlottesville, Va. between a group identified as white supremacists and counter-protesters.

The City Council requested staff on Monday to look into the possible renaming of the Pickett Bridge, in coordination with the Historical Preservation Commission and other local stakeholders, according to a news release. After the discussion, signs identifying the Pickett Bridge were covered on Thursday, but the coverings were ultimately ripped down, Mayor Kelli Linville said.

The decision was then made to remove the signs entirely. The two signs on the bridge were down before 10 a.m., Friday and the directional signs were being taken down later Friday, Linville said.

“Because of the way I feel about prejudice and any kind of anti-inclusionary feelings from the white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazis or anybody ...we thought it was better to take the signs down while having the conversation,” Linville said in a phone interview Friday. “I think it reflects the fact that this community is feeling strongly about what happened in Charlottesville ... I think it’s clear what the city of Bellingham stands for and our community discussion will re-emphasize that we are a welcoming, tolerant and accepting community.”

Some have expressed concerns the designation is not truly historical and that it honors a military leader for the Confederacy during the Civil War, city officials said.

Capt. George E. Pickett was a U.S. Army officer who built Fort Bellingham in the 1850s and supervised construction of the first bridge across Whatcom Creek. He left the area in 1861 to fight for his home state of Virginia in the Civil War – Pickett later became a general in the Confederate States Army.

Bellingham City Council members acknowledged residents and Western Washington University students who are “uncomfortable” with a local landmark named in honor of a military leader who served during a war marked as “a pinnacle of America’s racist history,” the news release indicated.

The Pickett House, at 910 Bancroft St., is on private property and is managed by the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington chapter No. 5, so the city has no control over what happens to it, Linville said.

“I believe our administration and City Council are united against hate,” Linville said. “I think to me it’s very simple – we don’t tolerate what happened in Charlottesville.”

Pickett lived in the house on the bluff until 1861 and used planks from Henry Roeder’s lumber mill to build it. The house is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest wooden building on its own foundation in Washington state, according to city officials. It is also the oldest building in Bellingham.

“I think we want the community to know, I want the community to know, that I grew up in a city that cared about the people that lived here and worked here regardless of anything. We’re a tolerant community and I think we have a history in Whatcom County that isn’t as tolerant,” Linville said. “I’m happy that I’m mayor at a time when this city is very welcoming to people from everywhere, every religion, every culture, every income and that’s how we like the community to be portrayed. And we don’t tolerate hate in our community, not in our city.”

Until the Council takes final action, the Pickett Bridge signs will stay down.

Since the violence in Charlottesville last Saturday, Bellingham police have received five reports of vandalism and instances involving hate speech, symbols or actions, including three graffiti swastikas, according to Lt. Don Almer. One of the swastikas was drawn Friday, Almer said. The other two reports involved an instance where someone wrote a derogatory statement aimed at President Donald Trump on a car, and an assault that is being investigated to determine whether the suspect, who was arrested, attacked someone due to race or socio-economic status.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

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