The battle over Missouri's Confederate monuments boils down to race issue
JEFFERSON CITY - A spokesman for a senator who wants to relocate Confederate monuments said it's not just about politics.
"This is a black and white issue," said Jason Groce, the chief of staff for Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.
The debate is also being framed as a matter of eliminating racist symbols versus preserving U.S. history.
Groce questions the need for such reminders.
"If justice is to be blind, then why do you have that rock there that continually shows the divisiveness of color.”
Groce said the monuments have been provoking minorities since the end of the Civil War. He said they should be moved because many were built on public land where people are forced to view them.
“Think about it, if you are an African American or minority in this country and you go to the courthouse, you already have a bias. You already have a viewpoint that 'nothing is going to work in my favor' in that courthouse, then you go to the courthouse and you see this monument that honors the Confederacy. It kinda solidifies that fact for you."
Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola strongly believes the monuments should be left where they are.
"We need to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors and try to understand why they did what they did,” he said. “We need to understand why they chose which side they did and then be able to respect that. Not move them, and definitely not deface them."
Love has family that fought on both sides of the Civil War; he does not believe that the monuments stand for white supremacy. In fact, he believes they stand as lone testaments to the bravery the rebels showed in combat and should be held with high esteem.
“These men who fought for the Confederacy were Missouri sons at the end of the day," he said.
Groce said Nasheed’s plan to relocate Missouri's Confederate memorials to one place, will protect them from vandals and from any further damage.
“We’re not trying to eliminate this history,” Groce said. “We just want to move them to preserve them, because this did happen, right, we don’t want to sugarcoat it, whitewash our history and say it never happened."
The proposal, Senate Bill 584 would require over 50 monuments, memorials and plaques of all shapes and sizes to be physically moved to the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site in Higginsville. That could take years to accomplish.
Love believes that moving the monuments is a waste of time and opens a door to damage them further, something that he has openly opposed.
After one Springfield monument was spray-painted he made a Facebook post saying the vandals responsible should be, “hung from a tall tree with a long rope.”
"I mean you could put these monuments all in one area, but to me that’s like trying to hide them, even though they would be displayed publicly," Love said. "That would be taking away dollars upon dollars from the communities where the historical events happened.”
The monuments in Love’s opinion attract tourists to remote areas in the state where Civil War battles took place. Taking them away, he argues, would cripple the economies of towns like Clinton, Cuba and Centralia that make money from history buffs that find the sites interesting.
Groce thinks this conclusion is an exaggeration.
“I would disagree with him,” Groce said. “People who want to visit these monuments and those who have any interest in seeing them are going to see them no matter where they are."
Groce said, so far, the bill has received praise from other senators at hearings and Nasheed's office has not received many calls or emails regarding the bill.
Groce does expect that to change as plans are finalized in the coming weeks.
A Booneville chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans demonstrated on a Katy Trail overpass on I-70 March 4, displaying a multitude of Confederate flags and symbols. They say there group will continue to rally while legislation continues.
The bill would also ban the sale of Confederate flags in the state. WalMart, Amazon, eBay and the state of California have also banned the flags distribution.
"I’m sure there will be more backlash to this bill, anytime you implement change there is always a resistance to change," Groce said.
He hopes if the bill passes, other states will soon follow in Missouri’s footsteps.
“Being here in Missouri, we pride ourselves on being the “Show Me State”, Groce said. “I think its time we take the lead and show other southern states what we ought to do and how we should do it.”
Nasheed’s office does not have a price estimate for how much such a massive relocation effort will cost. Boone County moved a five and a half ton red granite boulder known as Confederate Rock to a battlefield in Centralia in 2015. That move cost the county roughly $2,500.
Nasheed's office maintains that the preservation, and relocation of these monuments is worth any price.
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