In Missouri, A Statue Debate Rages Even As Some Confederate Monuments Come Down
Four Confederate monuments have been taken down since 2015, representing 20% of the state's total.
As protesters call to remove Confederate statues and symbols across the nation, a new study finds that Missouri has been one of the most responsive states to their demands in recent years.
Public information website BeenVerified says Missouri is removing its Confederate monuments at the fifth fastest rate in the country, following behind Maryland, California, and Oklahoma.
“Only four Confederate symbols in Missouri have been removed so far and while four doesn't sound like a lot in total, it's actually almost 20% of all of the Confederate symbols that have existed in the state,” said Brian Ross, a senior data analyst for BeenVerified.
BeenVerified's research of publicly available data found that there were several monument removals in Missouri in the aftermath of the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shootings in which a self-avowed white supremacist killed nine Black parishioners.
Ross says more removals around the nation were sparked by white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
“There was a decline in the trend in recent years, but after the death of George Floyd, there have been many renewed calls to remove these symbols,” said Ross.
Not just Confederate symbols
The focus goes beyond Confederate monuments. The University of Missouri in Columbia recently came under fire from students demanding the removal of a Thomas Jefferson statue from its campus.
Sophomore Roman Leaphart created an online petition earlier this month calling for the statue’s removal, which has since earned over 3,000 signatures.
Leaphart says he opposes the statue because Jefferson owned slaves. The slave that he fathered children with, Sally Hemings, Leaphart says should be celebrated instead.
“Sally Hemings is a leader. In my opinion, she stood and fought back against her oppressor and told us that black women aren't going to be silent,” said Leaphart.
The University of Missouri has said it will not be removing the statue, but Leaphart says he hopes he can work with the school to put up a plaque educating students on Jefferson’s controversial history.
“The issue with this isn't that it's a statue, it's that we don't talk about her legacy because her legacy is directly intertwined with his legacy,” said Ross with BeenVerified.
Leaphart says he was motivated to start the petition following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last month. Similar petitions across the state are gaining support, like a call for the removal of a Confederate monument in the Springfield National Cemetery that has received more than 5,000 signatures.
Ross says since 2015, he’s also seen an increase in the demand for removal of monuments across the state that aren’t related to the Confederacy, but are considered by some to symbolize racism and oppression in our country. That also includes a statue of Christopher Columbus that was removed this month in St. Louis, Missouri.
A debate in Kansas City
Kansas City, Missouri, now faces a similar discussion in renaming J.C. Nichols Fountain and Parkway.
The Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board is now considering a proposal to remove the name of the controversial real estate developer who is credited with the creation of the Country Club Plaza and many of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.
Historians argue his policies that barred African-Americans from buying or renting homes in his subdivisions are to blame for the racial divides that still exist throughout the metro.
Parks Board Commissioner Chris Goode says that while Nichols was a key developer of the city, he should not be celebrated for his contribution to segregating the city.
“I've heard that history shouldn't be changed, and I don't think it should either, but removing a memorialized name does not erase that history. It just says that as a city, we won't stand for it,” said Goode.
Petitions to rename the fountain and road have gained momentum in the past, but Goode hopes that the weeks of protests against police brutality and racism across the metro will be the tipping point for the fountain to be renamed.
“The time is now. Every second that his name is memorialized in our city, we are complicit. We're complicit to what he stood for because we have the power to make a statement that that is not what Kansas City represents,” said Goode.
Kansas City’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners, with Kansas City Public Library, is holding citizen engagement sessions for community input on the proposal. The next session will be held Wednesday, June 24 in an online forum.