ST. LOUIS — The 32-foot memorial to the Civil War's fallen Confederate soldiers has towered for a century near the visitors center of St. Louis' sprawling Forest Park. Now, the granite shaft faces its own brewing battle over its place there along "Confederate Drive."
Mayor Francis Slay, believing the landmark's centennial and rekindled national dialogue about race relations make the time ripe for assessing its place in the park, has asked three agencies to decide what, if anything, to do with it, "with the benefit of a longer view of history."
Chief options include doing nothing, as the Missouri chapter of a national Confederacy ancestry group advocates, saying any messing with the monument runaway is political correctness and a bid to erase history. The memorial dating to 1914 also could be relocated to what Slay calls "a more appropriate setting," or simply be allowed to stay put but modified with an inscription better describing the realities of slavery.
"Another reappraisal (of the landmark's place) is due," Slay wrote in his blog Tuesday in announcing his asking the Missouri History Museum, the nonprofit Forest Park Forever and the Incarnate Word Foundation to study the landmark's placement.
That scrutiny comes against the backdrop of the nation's continued grappling with race relations, lately in the months and protests that followed last summer's shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in nearby Ferguson.
Giving a fresh evaluation of the Confederate monument in what had been a border state during the Civil War "is timely in the context of social conflict in our community," said Eddie Roth, St. Louis' director of human services.
Darrell Maples, commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans' Missouri chapter, considers Slay's push "an affront on history."
"We can't change history, and we don't want to change history," Maples, a 55-year-old retired information technology worker from Jefferson City, said Wednesday after sending Slay an emailed request for a meeting. "We're living in a politically correct world that has just gone crazy, and our position is, 'Where does it stop?'"
"I feel this is just another attempt to erase a part of history that somebody may not like," Maples added. "We're kind of perplexed by all of this, and we're asking, 'Why now?'
Roth said labeling fresh reflection about the landmark as simply political correctness is "wrong.
"The precise opposite is true. This is about facing up to our history and having adult conversations about it," Roth said. "It's hard to think (the monument) was not designed to be provocative, so let it provoke good conversation about history and where we're going as a community."