Dismantling of Confederate Memorial marks the end of two years of promises, planning and protests
Former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said he’d take down the Confederate Memorial in Forest Park in 2015. That didn’t happen, so it fell to Mayor Lyda Krewson, who promised a plan to get it done almost as soon as she took office in April.
Two months later, the 32-foot-tall granite and bronze statue is being taken apart — slowly, as some pieces weigh as much as 40 tons. Some say the credit for the quick action doesn’t belong to Krewson but rather members of the community who’ve been vocal in recent weeks.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy put the statue up with the city’s permission in 1914 — 49 years after the end of the Civil War. The move wasn’t without controversy: A member of the Grand Army of the Republic told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1912 that a public park wasn’t the place.
“If there is to be one, it should be at Jefferson Barracks, where the Confederate soldiers are buried,” Francis P. Becker said.
But in 1964, when the United Daughters held a rededication ceremony, there were no protests even thought it was the height of the Civil Rights era.
The statue, though not at the forefront for all St. Louis-area residents, wasn’t forgotten by some. A woman from East St. Louis, Illinois, who goes by the name of Lacex said it’s disheartening that there are still monuments to the hatred that was a part of the Confederacy.
“I first learned about it as a teen,” she said. “... My grandparents always took us to places like this, and always made sure we knew the stories and we know what was behind it.”
The first push
Slay had heard about the monument, but hadn’t really thought about it until a nonprofit director brought it to his attention in 2015.
Slay did some research, and learned it was part of a national effort to redefine the Confederacy.
“When you read the inscription, it’s very clear that this monument, in so many words, is a monument to the Confederacy, it is a monument to slavery,” he said.
Based on his research, and in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Slay asked a commission, led by Flood, to look at whether Forest Park was the right place for the monument. In doing so, he joined a national conversation over Confederate symbols that gained steam after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine parishioners at a historic black church in South Carolina in June 2015. Since then, Louisville and New Orleans have taken their monuments down, and Baltimore and San Antonio, among others, are still debating what to do.
Slay’s commission said that the memorial should not remain in Forest Park. So, he went about figuring out how to take it down. But moving gigantic pieces of granite presents a lot of engineering and logistical challenges, and Slay ran out of time.
“I was disappointed that I couldn’t get it done, but I am happy to see that Mayor Krewson is taking on that effort,” he said.
The second attempt
Krewson said she knew two years ago, when she was still an alderwoman and the statue was in her ward, that it needed to come down — a position she emphasized at a press conference on May 23rd.
“It’s a situation that I consider to be very important and urgent, and as soon as we can make it happen, we will,” she said, promising to have a plan by the middle of June.
“I don’t think it’ll take too long to execute that plan,” Krewson said on June 6th.“I don’t know if that’s a month or a few weeks. But it’s not a year, it’s not six months.”
It’s not clear who’ll cover the cost of removing the memorial; Slay’s commission estimated it could be at least $130,000. Krewson has talked about using a combination of public and private money, although a bill being considered by the Board of Aldermen would block the use of any taxpayer dollars. A crowdfunding campaign led by Treasurer Tishaura Jones has raised more than $16,000.
The monument has its supporters. Some call it a piece of art, and others say that taking it down erases history due to disagreement.
But opponents appear to have won — and they’re taking credit for the fact that work finally started.
“I think if it wasn’t for all these people who are out here, they wouldn’t be thinking twice about it,” said Maria Santoyo, whose friends had posted about the memorial on Facebook. She joined a group of protesters who have gathered over the last few weeks to talk to people going to concerts at the Missouri History Museum about why the monument should be taken down.
“They would have done it already if there was leadership,” fellow protester Daniel Romano said. “I think it’s the people, the voice of St. Louis, that say we are a black and white and Latino and Asian city, and we love everyone and that monument to racism needs to go.”
Romano hopes to see conversations about racism continue.
“It’s the economic oppression, it’s what the police are doing., it’s the model of policing we’re using, and I guess these are the kinds of issues that would come out of removing this thing,” he said.
Nic Champion, another protester who works at the Kirkwood library, said he wants to see those kind of institutions get more involved in the conversation.
“I think that’s something that can educate people on both sides of the argument. … The first step to reforming any community is being informed,” he said.
New Orleans plans to put up a public art piece where the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee once stood.
“That is why we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a passionate speech on May 19th. “Because we are one nation, not two, indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We are all part of one nation, and pledge allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America.”
Krewson hasn’t said what happens after the monument comes down — including where it’s stored — though she calls its removal an end in and of itself. Getting that accomplished, she said, gives her the time to focus on the broader issues like jobs, education and policing.
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