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.