LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The story of David O. Dodd is relatively unknown outside of Arkansas, but the teenage spy who chose to hang rather than betray the Confederate cause is a folk hero to many in his home state.
Street signs and an elementary school in the state capital have long borne Dodd’s name, and admirers gather at his grave each year to pay tribute to his life and death.
“Everyone wants to remember everything else about the Civil War that was bad,” said one of them, W. Danny Honnoll. “We want to remember a man that stood for what he believed in and would not tell on his friends.”
A state commission’s decision, though, to grant approval for yet another tribute to Dodd has revived an age-old question: Should states still look for ways to commemorate historical figures who fought to defend unjust institutions?
Dodd “already has a school. I don’t know why anything else would have to be done to honor him,” said James Lucas Sr., a school bus driver, near the state Capitol in downtown Little Rock.
Arkansas’ complicated history of race relations plays out on the Capitol grounds. A stone-and-metal monument that has stood for more than a century pays tribute to the Arkansas men and boys who fought for the Confederacy and the right to own slaves. Not far away, nine bronze statues honor the black children who, in 1957, needed an Army escort to enter what had been an all-white school.
The newest nod to Dodd would mark a site across town where he was detained after Union soldiers found on him encoded notes about their troop locations. Dodd was convicted of spying and sentenced to death, and legend has it he refused an offer to walk free in exchange for the name of the person who had given him the information.
“It’s part of the romanticizing of the Civil War that began in the 1880s and the 1890s, that looks for … what could be called heroic behavior to celebrate in a war filled with real horrors,” University of Arkansas at Little Rock history professor Carl Moneyhon said.
And it has caught on, though many question why.
“It’s a very sad story, but at the end of the day, Dodd was spying for the Confederacy, which was fighting a war to defend the institution of slavery,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Sharon Donovan, who lives on West David O. Dodd Road, said she wouldn’t mind another Dodd memorial in her neighborhood.
“The fact that we live in the South, I could understand why he would want to do it because he was actually working for us in a way. … For that era, I think it was probably a noble thing to do,” Ms. Donovan said.
Still, in a city that stripped “Confederate Blvd.” from its interstate highway signs shortly before dignitaries arrived in town for the opening of Bill Clinton’s presidential library, the question remains: Should Dodd’s name be etched into another piece of stone or metal for posterity’s sake?
“There are currently more monuments to David O. Dodd than any other war hero in Arkansas,” Mr. Potok said. “You would think that at some point it would be enough.”