Next Up, St. Louis’s Confederate Monument

Update: As of this morning [8 June] the monument is being dismantled. Video here.

Recent high profile debates about the removal of Confederate monuments have centered on important military and political leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Monuments to both men have been removed at the University of Texas at Austin and New Orleans. The Charlottesville city council recently voted to remove its Lee Monument and Baltimore is in the process of evaluating a monument that commemorates both Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

The public debates have centered on whether these individuals are worthy of continued commemoration – specifically whether their connection to the Confederacy can be understood apart from its goal of protecting and expanding slavery.

This week the city of St. Louis moved one step closer to removing its Confederate monument located in Forest Park. It’s monument does not depict a historical figure, but is more allegorical in its depiction of a mother clinging to her son in civilian clothes, who is about to enter military service for the Confederacy. They stand below “The angel of the spirit of the Confederacy.” On the reverse is an inscription to the Confederacy’s soldiers and sailors.

I find the addition of “Black Lives Matter” signs to the monument to be particularly instructive and worth a little reflection. The future of ‘black lives’ was at the center of the Confederate cause. The Confederacy laid claim to close to 4 million ‘black lives’ in 1861 as well as their children and children’s children.

This was likely not on the minds of the Ladies’ Confederate Memorial Association, who raised the money for this monument, or those people who attended its dedication in 1914.

Yes, white mothers throughout the Confederacy were forced to say goodbye to their sons and many never saw them alive again. We should, however, remember that the government for which they fought hoped to continue and even expand a system that had witnessed the fracturing of black families for hundreds of years.

Finally, it should be pointed out, as the mayor of St. Louis did in 2014, that this is not the first time that the city will have moved a monument:

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.

Stay tuned.

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6 comments… add one
  • David Dixon Jun 8, 2017

    Well said Kevin. I quoted part of Landrieu’s speech on the removal of the Lee monument to open my talk at a Civil War conference last weekend. The room was eerily quiet. I then launched into a talk on the black experience in Civil War Georgia. Most in the audience made the connection but it will still take time for Confederate heritage groups to separate myth from reality

  • John Stoudt Jun 8, 2017

    You make a good — and troubling — point about the “Black Lives Matter” signs. In 1861 black lives mattered as property. Gaines Foster, in his volume entitled “Ghosts of the Confederacy”, quotes a Confederate who wrote that most slave-owners during the war would rather send two sons into the army than risk losing one slave.

  • Sandi Saunders Jun 8, 2017

    This Southerner with Confederate ancestors is happy to see some recognition of the continued pain and insult these monuments deliver and I am not unhappy to see any of them go. I am happy to see efforts to contextualize even in places the sentiment is still too strong to be breached but these monuments revere a painful tragedy and do not educate on the mistakes and the infamy of the “cause”. We can do better, and we must.

  • tmheaney Jun 8, 2017

    I want to shout “Bring back General Lyons,” but he was responsible for the worst massacre in California history – the mass murder of the Pomo Indians at Clear Lake in 1850. So, I’ve got mixed feelings on this.

  • London John Jun 8, 2017

    Confederate monuments in slave states that remained in the Union is an interesting topic slightly different from those in former Confederate states. How did thesae monuments come about? And wasn’t there opposition? Incidentally, isn’t it Nathaniel Lyon (sic) as painted by George Caleb Bingham?
    I don’t think Lyon is unique in being a war hero of the Civil War and a war criminal of the Indian Wars. His monument surely commemorates his role in saving the Union, not all-round ssaintliness.

  • James Simcoe Jun 11, 2017

    Frost is an odd fit anyway. Born in New York state, he was involved in secessionist plotting in Missouri, avoiding the centrist,Benton Democrat faction. He was captured by Lyon who led a group of regulars and German immigrant militia. The Confederate Camp is on the campus of today – they were headed to the arsenal in St. Louis. Exchanged, he served in several commands. When his wife moved to Canada to escape Unionist harassment, Frost DESERTED thence. Officially listed as AOL, he returned after the war. Guess his daughters were trying to do damage control!

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