LIBERTY — An online petition seeks to remove a statue of an unnamed Confederate soldier, erected in 1904.
Articles of agreement were between the Eastern Granite Marble Company and the Confederate Monument Company of Liberty. It was ordered by Phillip Reddish and signed by two Liberty residents, according to local historian Christopher A. Harris.
It occupies near Fairview & New Hope Cemeteries at South Terrace Avenue and West Shrader Street in Liberty.
However, it is unclear, Mayor Lyndell Brenton said, if the statue sits on city property or private land.
“The Liberty City Council has received phone calls and emails concerning the statue,” said the mayor Monday, June 22, at a city council meeting. “We are working to make that determination. It’s digging through records that are over 100 years old. We also have legal counsel doing research to figure out requirements on maintaining monument markers. It is on our collective radar.”
One of those calls concerning the statue came from Patrick Campbell, who has lived in Liberty since 2009. In a Change.org petition he created to seek removal the statute, Campbell writes, “Having a Confederate memorial on public property is offensive to many residents of our multiracial community whether they are aware of its existence or not. A town named Liberty should not have a monument that memorializes people that brutally removed that right from people of color. It sits in a graveyard, but it is not a grave, just an intimidating reminder of Clay County’s Confederate past that should no longer be publicly promoted.”
As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, 668 people signed the online petition. It is unclear if all signatures are those of Liberty residents.
Campbell said he doesn’t want to desecrate any grave, but he can’t understand how the community can support the statue.
“I believe the current events demonstrate that this statue doesn’t have a place here,” he said. “I want to move forward, though with the democratic process and hear from everyone. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I feel like Liberty is multiracial and it sits right beside the road.”
Campbell said he reached out to the Liberty City Council and Councilman Mike Hagan responded. Hagan said he is glad conversation started.
“I’m hopeful we can have a constructive dialogue,” the councilman said. “I think there is some discussion that is needed about potential other options. I don’t think leaving it as is is really an option unless the city doesn’t own the statue or if it sits on a private plot.”
Hagan said one idea could include finding a way to have the statue tell a story.
“Can we change it in some way — cover the Confederate flag, for example — and perhaps install another placard or permanent informational piece next to it that denounces what it stands for, but indicates we wanted to leave it as a relic of history to tell the story of America’s racist past or something like this? Since the statue itself isn’t a statue of a specific person but more a generic soldier, I think we could find a way to do this respectfully.”
Hagan said he wants to see if a museum or other institution will acquire all of the statues that are being removed (not just of the request made of Liberty) and curate them into a collection that educates the public on the terrible legacy of slavery and how racism pervaded society for decades after the end of the Civil War. Harris told the Courier-Tribune if the monument is removed, he feels it would take away from part of Liberty’s history.
“It represents a dark time in Liberty and Clay County,” he said. “However, we have to understand the history behind it and come together with the Black community to start some reconciliation. It’s a reminder of what we should not do. During walking tours, it’s a talking point. It’s a vivid reminder of what used to be.”
The Clay County Historical Museum board declined to comment on the statue.
Harris said research is being done by volunteers to document the Black inhabitants buried in Fairview, both slave and free.
“I have heard the number (is) about 700. The goal is to place a very nice, long overdue monument for those who are buried there, most in unmarked graves near the creek. I invite you to go and pay your respects to those in that area and reflect on the price they paid. That is how you promote change,” he wrote on social media.
Shelton Ponder, author and historian for Clay County African-American Legacy Inc., and the Garrison School, now a cultural center that was established as a school for African American children by African American residents in 1877, said as a lifelong Liberty resident, he has noticed the statue since childhood.
“I found it offensive then because it represented people who sought to keep my ancestors in the despicable human bondage of enslavement,” he said. “It also perpetuated hatred and Jim Crow laws more ardently after losing in the war against the United States of America. Personally, I think the statue should be removed.”
Ponder said his ancestors served in a segregated military in the Civil War, World War I and World War II with honors. He also had relatives who traveled and served in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and some who are still serving honorably.
“I, my brothers and numerous other African Americans from Liberty served in the military and took the oath of allegiance to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” he said. “Although it’s not a perfect union, many are striving in positive ways to ensure a better country for the present and future generations.”
Another lifelong Liberty resident, Theresa Byrd, has been sharing the petition for the statue’s removal on her Facebook page as well as the CCCAAL page.
“I support the cause and believe that it needs to be removed,” she said. “I grew up on West Mill, and while I should have attended Franklin, I was sent to Garrison School because of segregation.”
As a child, Byrd, who is also African American, said she and her brothers would cut through the cemetery to get to City Park.
“I think I was in first grade and noticed that monument,” she said. “I had a conversation with my parents. We talked about the Civil War and I remember thinking, ‘This is the 1950s. Why is Liberty continuing celebrating this?’”
Growing up, she said she changed her route through the cemetery to avoid the monument.
“Even today, when I go to decorate the graves of my relatives in the cemetery, I avoid the monument,” she said.
Of current efforts to identify unmarked graves of African Americans buried in the cemetery, Byrd said the statue should be removed before “any plaque or honor is erected.
“It needs to come down and go into storage,” she said.