Via Michael R. Allen/Instagram
Activists posted "Black Lives Matter" signs to a memorial in Forest Park honoring fallen Confederate soldiers on Sunday.
The horrific shooting of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston has reignited the contentious debate surrounding the Confederate flag on South Carolina’s capitol grounds. The flag, seen by many as a symbol of white racial supremacy, remained at full mast last week, even as the American and South Carolina flags flew at half-mast to honor the shooting victims.
But South Carolina isn’t alone in having remnant vigils honoring the Confederacy. In April, SLM broke the news that Mayor Francis Slay wants a committee to decide the fate of St. Louis’ century-old Confederate Memorial in Forest Park.
On Sunday, activists hung “Black Lives Matter” signs and banners from the memorial, which displays a sculpture of a family sending a young Confederate soldier off to war.
Activists also hung a “Black Lives Matter” banner and signs with pro-equality messages on the back of the monument, almost obscuring this quote from Gen. Robert E. Lee carved below a poem from a Confederate St. Louis soldier: “We had sacred principles to maintain and rights to defend for which we were duty bound to do our best, even if we perished in the endeavor.”
Margaret Johnson, co-founder of the Black Lives Matters Signs Project, says she joined Sunday’s demonstration at the memorial after hearing about it on Facebook. She brought extra “Black Lives Matter” signs. Already though, many of the approximately 60 people who gathered—mostly white people and families—had brought their own signs.
The group met at the Forest Park visitor’s center, where demonstrators held their signs in silent protest before marching to the memorial on Confederate Drive. As they marched, Johnson noticed a group of African-American soccer players watching them.
“They were shocked to see a bunch of white people carrying ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs down the street,” Johnson tells SLM. “They bought our signs and took selfies in front of the memorial.
Johnson, age 74, says she has mixed feelings about removing the memorial from Forest Park, especially after Sunday’s demonstration illustrated how the memorial can spark productive dialogue about slavery and racial prejudice.
“Having the monument there is forcing people to talk about it,” Johnson says.
Historic preservationist Michael Allen calls the memorial an “important story-telling device” and wants the memorial to stay in Forest Park—albeit with an explanation of its troubling history.
“I want to see [the memorial] annotated, perhaps even the way it was marked this weekend” with banners and signs, Allen tells SLM. “This was a gentle and spirited rebuke. I think the proper redress is not to yank down and hide the history of the more problematic side of the Civil War, but to mark and celebrate the black history we often ignore and obscure in St. Louis.”
Right now, the almost-forgotten memorial holds little importance for most St. Louisans, Allen says. “[Sunday] was the first time that memorial has been alive in a while,” he says. “If it becomes a totem for a fight to change St. Louis and to change race relations, it might have a new purpose for the 21st century.”
The statue has been controversial since before it was erected in 1915. The Daughters of the Confederacy agreed not to show a Confederate soldier in uniform or holding weapons on the monument after public outcry.
The statue’s fate is still uncertain. For now, the 32-foot-tall granite memorial to the Confederacy stands just a stone’s throw from a statue honoring German immigrants who fought for the Union during the Civil War.