When the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park was presented to the City of St. Louis in December 1914 by Daughters of the Confederacy of St. Louis, nearly 50 years had passed since Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox.
Understandable ambivalence surrounded the 32-foot-high granite shaft depicting "The Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy." The women's group sought to quell controversy when it pledged during the planning stage that the monument would have "no figure of a Confederate Soldier, or object of modern warfare."
Yet, a contemporaneous account of the dedication ceremony published in the Confederate Veteran, a monthly history magazine published from 1893 to 1932, made plain the intentions behind the sculptural gift.
When presenting the monument, Mrs. H.N. Spencer, president of the Confederate Monument Board, said "it seems fitting that Missouri, so strongly Southern in sentiment, should have the shaft reared here in this her great metropolis."
Fifty years later, in December 1964, a rededication ceremony for the monument was held, one reported to have "emphasized the 'many charitable works of the sons and daughters of the confederacy'" but continued "to acknowledge the deep divisions between St. Louisans that still existed.'"
The monument's principal inscription is a memorial "to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Southern Confederacy, who fought to uphold the right declared by the pen of Jefferson and achieved by the sword of Washington."
"With sublime self-sacrifice," the inscription continues, "they battled to preserve the independence of the States which was won from Great Britain and to perpetuate the constitutional government which was established by the fathers."
"Actuated by the purest patriotism, they performed deeds of prowess such as thrill the heart of mankind with admiration. 'Full in the front of war they stood' and displayed a courage so superb that they gave a new and brighter luster to the annals of valor. History contains no chronicle more illustrious than the story of their achievements; and although worn out by ceaseless conflict and overwhelmed by numbers, they were finally forced to yield their glory."
We now are in the centennial year of the Confederate Monument in Forest Park. Another reappraisal is due.
I am asking the Missouri History Museum, Forest Park Forever, and the Incarnate Word Foundation, which already has begun work on the issue, to assemble a centennial reappraisal committee.
Their charge would be to recommend whether, with the benefit of a longer view of history, 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 whether it should be relocated to a more appropriate setting.
They also should address whether 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, whether the monument should 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 would ask the commission, also, to reappraise the name "Confederate Drive," the Forest Park thoroughfare on which the monument is situated. They might consider whether "Freedom" or "Justice" would be more fitting.