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The Confederate statue and monument has been part of the Liberty cemetery landscape since 1904.

LIBERTY — Liberty City Council is moving forward with its effort to take legal ownership of a portion of block 174 in Fairview Cemetery, land containing a Confederate memorial statue that is at the center of race relations debate in the city.

In December, the city council voted to pursue revestment of the land, which is the legal process of returning a territory or piece of land to control of an authority such as a city. City leaders opted to pursue revestment after extensive research of available records did not clearly show a line of inherited ownership of the plot, according to a city memo. The ownership has been a debated topic in recent months among city leaders and historical groups as some contend the land the statue sits on is a privately-owned cemetery plot while the overall cemetery is owned and operated by the city.

Since June, there have been petitions brought forward to seek removal of the Confederate monument as well as another petition to keep the statue. Hours of public comment has been given to the council during public meetings with a mixed bag of those who want to see it taken down or moved because of its racist implications to those who want to retain it for historical value.

Larry Yeatman with the Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the group owns the plot the monument sits on as well as the statue. The group installed a security camera to protect gravestones and the memorial stone from vandalism.

“It comes down to private property rights and the respect for the dead,” he said in a previous Courier-Tribune interview.

Other groups, such as the Clay Countians for Inclusion, seek removal of the statue and monument pillar. During public comment opportunities at council meetings, member Theresa Byrd said growing up, she changed her route through the cemetery to avoid the monument because of its racist undertones.

“Even today, when I go to decorate the graves of my relatives in the cemetery, I avoid the monument,” she said.

According to the city, the next step in the revestment process is to notify any prospective owners the city can identify, including the public, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Clay County government, and allow possible owners to come forward. Notices are expected to begin this week and include notification in a local newspaper.

Anyone with a claim of ownership has 30 days to submit proof to Liberty City Council. Upon review of ownership claims, if the council determines a true owner has not come forth, it will proceed with legal matters to take possession of the property. City leaders have not said if they will remove the statue if the circuit court decides in the city’s favor, allowing it to take ownership of the plot.

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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