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Aldermen launch effort to rename Forest Park's Confederate Drive

Alderman Lyda Krewson has introduced a measure to change the name of Confederate Drive in Forest Park to East Cricket Drive.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

An alderman from the central corridor has launched an effort to remove a commemoration of the Civil War from Forest Park.

The full text of 28th Ward Democrat Lyda Krewson's measure is just nine lines long. It renames Confederate Drive, an approximate 600-foot-long road that runs past the Confederate memorial near the visitors' center, to Cricket Drive East.

"The naming of a street honors whatever it's named after, and I think that name alone is hurtful to many people in our community," Krewson said. Her colleague Terry Kennedy is a co-sponsor.

The measure has been assigned to the streets committee. Any action will likely take place after aldermen return from their summer break in September.

In addition to calling for a change in the street name, Mayor Francis Slay asked the Incarnate Word Foundation to evaluate what it would take to move the monument from its current site. Human services director Eddie Roth, who is leading that effort, said the foundation, which had started looking at the issued before the mayor weighed in, is still putting together a committee, but expected work to go quickly once everyone is on board. 

Missouri and the Civil War

The state of Missouri, and St. Louis itself, sat in a complicated place during the Civil War. Though Missouri was a slave state and its governor a Confederate sympathizer, it never officially seceded from the union. Both Union and Confederate troops trained at Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County. Confederate troops had an encampment on what is now the grounds of Saint Louis University, and the McDowell Medical College was a Union prison camp. Nestle-Purina now sits on that land.

Numerous streets are named for Union Army heroes, including Ulysses S. Grant and Albert Gallatin Edwards, who was a Union Army general before forming the brokerage firm A.G. Edwards. Farragut Street is named for the Naval hero David G. Farragut, who won the battle of Mobile Bay and captured the city of New Orleans. Lyon Park, near the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, is named for Nathaniel Lyon.

But Confederate figures have a small presence in the city as well. Online records from the St. Louis Public Libraryshow that Bowen Street, in south St. Louis, is named for Confederate Gen. John S. Bown, while Lee Avenue in north city is named for Robert E. Lee. 

In 1959, Harriet Fordyce, the daughter of Confederate general Daniel Frost, donated more than $1 million to Saint Louis University to help it acquire more than 22 acres for campus expansion. The land was once the site of Camp Jackson, a Confederate encampment her father had commanded. In exchange, the university agreed to call the northern portion of the campus Frost Campus, and move the statue of Lyon, the Union general and Frost's military nemesis, to the park that now bears Lyon's name.

Clayton Berry, a SLU spokesman, said the Frost Campus title is no longer used formally and many current students likely have never heard the designation, though it is sometimes used internally. He said there is no other memorial to Gen. Frost on SLU's campus, and he has not heard any discussion about changing the designation.

In early 2015, parents at Kennard Classical Junior Academy, a top-performing school in the city, learned the building was named for Confederate Army Lt. Samuel Kennard, an aide to the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Patrick Wallace, a spokesman for the St. Louis Public Schools, said the diversity committee of the school's parent-teacher organization was reviewing whether to rename the school, but no official request had been made. 

What's in a name?

This is not the first time St. Louis has changed street names amid political sentiment. Amid anti-German hysteria driven by World War I, city leaders renamed six streets: 

Trinity Lutheran Church in Soulard changed the wording of its name in stained glass to English due to anti-German sentiment during WW I.
Credit Trinity Lutheran Church
Trinity Lutheran Church in Soulard changed the wording of its name in stained glass to English due to anti-German sentiment during WW I.

  • Berlin Avenue became Pershing Avenue, named for the legendary soldier John J. "Black Jack" Pershing.
  • Von Versen Avenue, named for German nobleman Maxmilian Von Versen, the son-in-law of businessman James  Clemens Jr., became Enright Avenue, for Jack Enright, a St. Louis-area man killed in World War I.
  • Kaiser Street became Gresham Street, to honor James Bethel Gresham, one of the first American soldiers killed in World War I.
  • Knapstein Place, in the Dutchtown area, became Providence Place
  • Hapsburger Place was renamed Cecil Place, after British statesman Robert Cecil, who helped draft the League of Nations
  • Bismarck Street became Kosciusko Street, named for Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish military man who fought with the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

In 2014, local author and historian Jim Merkel launched an effort to install honorary street signs with the old names. His great grandfather fought in World War I.
"I'm sure that my great-great grandfather, who allowed his son go off to fight in the Great War, I'm sure that he was hurt," Merkel said. "Just to see these street names come down, I'm sure it spooked many, many patriotic German-Americans."   

But he said while it may seem hypocritical, he supports the effort to rename Confederate Drive.

"This is very much darker than the German signs that were changed in World War I," Merkel said. 

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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