Beyond The Battle Flag: Controversy Over Confederate Symbols Unfurls
The Charleston, S.C., shootings have sparked lots of discussion about the Confederate battle flag, but it's not the only symbol of the Confederacy.
Hundreds of Confederate memorials, plazas and markers dot the South — and beyond — and are attracting attention from fresh eyes. Even as far north as Missouri, two memorials have become flash points.
One in Kansas City is 35 to 40 feet tall, topped with a Confederate soldier, with an inscription reading: "In memory of our Confederate dead." It's in a cemetery in a mostly African-American part of town, across the street from a YMCA named for Kansas City's first black mayor, long-time pastor and current U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
"I, uh ... I'm, I was stunned because I have never seen it — and I've done burials there," Cleaver says.
Even 150 years since the end of the Civil War, new Confederate memorials have continued to spring up. Darrell Maples, commander for the Missouri division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, helped dedicate one just this past weekend in tiny Rocheport, Mo., near the center of the state.
"It's important that we remember the past," he says. "I think in a world that we're living now, where it seems everything sacred is being attacked in one way or another, remembering those that have went before us and died for a cause that they believed in is sacred."
The Rocheport marker is small, but a looming monument going up near the Texas-Louisiana border. A massive concrete ring held up by pillars, it rises about 20 feet off the ground, just off Interstate 10 and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Orange, Texas.
Paul Jones, who runs the NAACP chapter in nearby Beaumont, sees the monument in a sinister light.
"It's glorifying, to me, white supremacy — and the institution of slavery," he says.
But Marshal Davis, spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans group in Texas, says it's simply intended to venerate a cause that hundreds of thousands of Americans fought and died for. He does concede, though, that they are controversial.
"Oh yes, I completely agree that our symbols are under a new scrutiny — based on the actions of one madman," he says.
Madman or not, there's an intense disagreement here.
Since the Charleston shootings, Confederate monuments have themselves become targets: Vandals have hit them in Charleston, Baltimore and, just Wednesday, in St. Louis, where a 32-foot-tall memorial was defaced with red paint.
Eddie Roth, St. Louis' human services director, reads from the monument's glowing inscription: "The sublime self-sacrifice in the battle to preserve the independence of the states ... and they performed deeds of prowess such as thrill the heart of mankind with admiration."
There's only one problem with the text, according to Roth: "It really is a monument to a myth" — one in which the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
Rep. Cleaver says that alleged Charleston shooter Dylann Roof may have done something he didn't count on.
"His act of pure, undistilled hate has caused something to we have not seen in a quarter of a century," he says: a candid conversation about race, hostility and the shifting meanings of historic symbols.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay had begun talking about moving the vandalized memorial months before the Charleston shooting, and it's possible the current scrutiny will help push that along.
Copyright 2015 KCUR 89.3