I am delighted by the growing chorus of opinion makers and citizens who have voiced support for my call to reappraise the Confederate Monument in Forest Park.
This year marks the centennial year since the monument was erected.
In April, I asked:
Is the “monument is appropriately situated in Forest Park - the place where the World was asked to meet and experience St. Louis at its best and most sublime” or should it “be relocated to a more appropriate setting?” And, does the “monument represents a peculiar memorial to what euphemistically was referred to in the American South as a 'peculiar institution' -- slavery-- and wherever ultimately situated" should it “be accompanied by a description of the reality and brutality of slavery, over which the war was waged, including in this city, and the bitter badges of slavery, Jim Crow and de facto discrimination and segregation, that are its continuing legacy?”
I also asked for a reappraisal of the name "Confederate Drive," the Forest Park thoroughfare on which the monument is situated, noting that “’Freedom" or "Justice" would be more fitting.
Much has happened in the months since.
Alderwoman Lyda Krewson began work on legislation that would address the Confederate Drive issue.
In June, the murder of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina brought sharp national attention and a call for reappraisal of all symbols of the Confederacy.
The prime focus has been Confederate flags or state flags bearing Confederate symbols (which I ordered removed from the City Hall Rotunda soon after I first was elected Mayor in 2001.)
But symbols such as the Confederate Monument also should command our attention.
I asked Eddie Roth, my Director of Human Services, to confer with esteemed Civil War historians and prepare an incisive monograph that will help form public debate, one that provides answers to the questions: How did the Civil War Monument in Forest Park come into being? Who were its sponsors? What were the motivations of its sponsors? Why does it glorify the Confederate cause? What place in national history and the history of our community have Confederate Monuments such as the one in Forest Park served?
I have asked that he present his report by the end of the summer.
In the meantime, there appear to be two options for the Confederate Monument’s disposition:
The Missouri History Museum believes that the Monument should stay in place at its current location in Forest Park — that it is a part of our history, not one for which we should be especially proud, but one that should be universally understood. The History Museum proposes creating permanent interpretive material at the monument explaining the historical context in which a glorification of the Confederate cause could be established in our city in the early 20th Century.
(I agree that wherever the monument ends up, it should be accompanied by interpretive material as the History Museum has suggested, material that provides a faithful historical explanation of the bitter truth surrounding the monument’s installation in St. Louis.)
U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, and others, argue that the monument should be removed from Forest Park. This, too, is a respectable position. Such a move would itself symbolize a clean break from the Monument’s symbolism.
The idea, pushed in social media and a chain email campaign, that moving the monument to another prominent, more suitable locale represents an “erasing” of our history is absurd. There has been more public attention paid to the Confederate Monument since I called for its reappraisal than had occurred in all of the preceding 50 years combined.
What’s more, we have a rich tradition of moving Civil War monuments in St. Louis, and no one knows this better than Confederate sympathizers.
In the late 1950s, Saint Louis University received a large gift from the daughter of Confederate General Daniel Frost, in exchange for which the St. Louis University campus was renamed the “Frost” Campus. Another condition of the gift was that a statute of Union Army General Nathaniel Lyons, which had been situated on the prominent corner of Grand Boulevard and West Pine Avenue be exiled to a sleepy southside park today known as Lyons Park.
Gen. Lyons, a great patriot, who had been Confederate Gen. Frost’s nemesis, remains in that sleepy locale, largely out of public view.
But there are issues of stewardship of public monies that must be evaluated when considering how and where the monument might be resituated.
We have received many suggestions for where the Monument might be moved. One person suggested the Jefferson Barracks Park in St. Louis County. Another suggested the North Riverfront Park. A third argued that the City Museum’s beautiful Architecture Hall would provide a vibrant public forum. Several people opined that the monument could become a dynamic learning tool on the Saint Louis University Campus — enabling students to meditate on the campus’ historic status as a Confederate staging ground.
The Incarnate Word Foundation deserves great praise for bringing forward issues surrounding the Confederate Monument. I had proposed a reappraisal committee to think these issues through, and asked for the Incarnate Word Foundation’s assistance in organizing it.
I now wish to narrow and sharpen the mission of such a committee.
I am asking the Incarnate Word Foundation to organize a group to formulate and circulate a request for proposals from persons and organizations who would be willing and able to provide an appropriate public place for the Confederate Monument should the decision be made for it to be moved.
This will help us to make smart choices about the monument’s future based on practical facts — and will lead to continued lively discussion through which we can confront our history with unvarnished truth.