People here are talking about the coming solar eclipse and how large the crowds could be in Waverly, Lexington and Higginsville.
What they’re not talking about are the Confederate monuments dotting the area. That attention, they don’t need.
And officials around Lafayette County say despite the raging national argument about memorials to warriors of the pro-slavery South, few complaints have been directed toward these parts.
That might be because the debate — while clearly rooted in race and the legacy of slaveholding — is a complicated one, experts say.
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“I don’t know we’ll ever reach a time where they (Confederate memorials) all go away,” said Jeremy Neely, history professor at Missouri State University. “They’re across the country — not just Dixie. It’s bizarre.”
Oregon. Montana. Arizona. Even Massachusetts, a stalwart of the Union in the Civil War.
In recent weeks several monuments — from Gainesville, Fla., to Durham, N.C., to Baltimore — were removed, covered up or torn down. The deadly clash in Charlottesville, Va., resulted from a showdown between white supremacists and protesters to a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Last year the Southern Poverty Law Center tallied more than 700 Confederate monuments and statues on public property in 31 states, including 14 in Missouri. Wichita and Humbolt, Kan., each had one.
The legal advocacy group’s list fails to note a monument at Ward Parkway and 55th Street in Kansas City that honors “the Loyal Women of the Old South.”
The 83-year-old gift from a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy came under scrutiny this week after an area resident asked in a letter to the park board that the monument be removed.
The letter-writer, Peter Gogol of Prairie Village, told The Star he thought “it was wholly appropriate to have memorials for the dead on both sides of the war” at battlefield sites and museums. But a monument honoring women of states that fought to maintain the institution of slavery should not be standing alone on a city-owned median, Gogol said.
Park commissioners are reviewing the matter.
The Rev. Rodney Williams, president of the Kansas City chapter of the NAACP, said Confederate monuments should not be on public property.
“These monuments,” he said, “are at the very least a sick reminder that racism is in the DNA of this nation.”
Setting and context
Even in politically combustible times 152 years after war’s end, some say that the setting and context of a Confederate marker can determine how well, or poorly, it is accepted:
▪ At downtown Kansas City’s Union Cemetery, which is a public park, a monument to Confederates who died in the Battle of Westport has fielded no protests, said Kevin Fewell, longtime president of the Union Cemetery Historical Society. The federal government erected the memorial in 1911 and still maintains it.
“One reason we’ve had no problems is it’s in a cemetery,” said Fewell. “Another reason, as you well know, we’re kind of hidden away here.”
▪ In Higginsville, a Lion of Lucerne statue in memory of “Our Confederate Dead” towers among the headstones of veterans and their wives who died at Missouri’s Confederate Home. At its height, the sprawling property now known as the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site consisted of 30 buildings.
The century-old chapel, a farmhouse and the 1920s-era hospital remain, giving the site a museum quality.
It’s a beautiful place, said Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh. He said doesn’t worry about anyone vandalizing the site, as has occurred in recent weeks elsewhere.
“I don’t think anyone pays a lot of attention to those shenanigans in the national media,” he added.
▪ The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site features one marker honoring Confederate troops and another honoring Union soldiers, muting objections.
▪ Waverly’s statue memorializing one-time resident Confederate Gen. Joseph O. Shelby lacks what some other sites have in history, place or graves.
It was erected in 2008 inside a city park bearing Shelby’s name. The Dixie flag waves from a flagpole alongside a U.S. flag.
Arriving in Waverly at age 22, Shelby ran a hemp plantation and led a company of Border Ruffians who muscled their way into Kansas territory and voted illegally to elect pro-slavery legislators.
Shelby is buried in Kansas City.
On Thursday, a couple walking by the Waverly statue expressed reservations about it. But they knew too many neighbors and relatives who like it to be quoted by name.
Neither detractors nor supporters approached by The Star cared to go on the record, except for Mayor Barbara Schreiman.
“We’re very proud,” she said. “I haven’t had anybody complain to me ... and that’s going back to the dedication.
“Actually, a lot of people here probably don’t know who he (Shelby) is. Just some guy on a horse.”
Waverly, population about 850, arose in a part of Missouri that became known as Little Dixie. Lafayette County in the Civil War was strongly pro-Confederate, with slaves making up 25 percent of the population, though Missouri never seceded.
In the 2010 census, the county of 33,000 posted a black population of less than half a percent.
Dismantled and stored
Historian Neely said communities began erecting monuments to the Confederacy around the time its veterans were passing way, from the late 19th century through the first two decades of the 20th.
“Another wave that came was in the 1950s and 60s, coinciding with the civil rights movement,” he said.
In June, St. Louis officials announced the removal from Forest Park of its granite behemoth honoring the losing side of the war.
Not wanting to see the Confederate monument destroyed, the Missouri Civil War Museum agreed to pay for it to be dismantled and stored. It’s to be donate, sometime, to a new location.
The museum’s executive director, Mark Trout, said: “Right now there’s not going to be a government entity in its right mind to re-erect this.
“I got a lot of positive reaction and a lot of negative. We’re just viewing it as a historical artifact.”