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America and the Confederate debate – Should the country do away with Confederate monuments?

Confederate battle flag beside the Confederate Monument in front of the South Carolina Statehouse
J. Stephen Conn | Flickr | 2006

In the aftermath of the church shooting on June 17 that claimed the lives of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, much debate has been sparked around the country’s ties to the Confederacy. Since the attack, officials discovered that Dylan Storm Roof, the shooter in this case, had ties to white supremacist groups. The Confederate Flag, often noted as a representation of racism and segregation, serves as a symbol for many of those groups.

In South Carolina, the flag is still a staple on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse. Recently, Gov. Nikki Haley announced a push to have it removed.

But, where does that leave the many other Confederate memorials? Is there a distinction between the battle flag, which carries a more negative connotation, and the monuments, which are said to represent a piece of American history? And, ultimately, how far should reactions be taken toward the issue?

In the past week, Confederate monuments across the country have been defaced, including a well-known statue in Forest Park. In April, Mayor Francis Slay published a blogpost on his website calling for a reappraisal of the statue.

“I think [reaction] should be taken far enough so that people will understand the real historic context and purpose of this monument,” said Eddie Roth, director of human services for the City of St. Louis. Roth is responsible for researching the significance and history of the monument, including studying the pros and cons of potentially relocating the statue.

“I think that we need to focus on this until people understand what it is,” Roth added. “Part of that conversation needs to include whether it should be situated somewhere else and how best to use it as a tool to educate citizens. The question that the Mayor raised is if the monument is most appropriately situated in Forest Park.”

Louis Gerteis, professor of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis believes that there is a difference between the Confederate flag in comparison to the monuments.

“I do think there’s a big difference, particularly for the memorial in Forest Park, because it was vetted before it was put up,” Gerteis explained. “It was put up without any belligerent symbolism, there’s not a soldier or weaponry. There’s a depiction (on the monument) of a quote from Robert E. Lee about how all men who had fought for the confederacy had been noble and brave, and patriotic. [And also], a family saying goodbye to a man who’s presumable heading south to join the Confederate memorial.”

While the debate may not be over anytime soon, both Roth and Gerteis believe that doing away with Confederate monuments would take away from what is inevitably a part of American history.

“Americans don’t always have a very good sense of their history,” Gerteis said, “and I think that sometimes we can sweep away historical memory in the process of trying to move forward in terms of our own culture. It’s a very delicate balance, I think, of how you handle these commemorations and their expungement.”

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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