LIBERTY — The Liberty City Council, with a 5-3 vote, is pursuing legal revestment of a hotly debated cemetery lot with a Confederate monument in the Fairview-New Hope cemeteries. The decision came after an almost-three hour meeting in November. Revestment is the return of a territory or piece of land to the control of a monarch or other authority such as a city.
Councilmen Greg Duncan, Kevin Graham, Harold Phillips, Mike Hagan and Gene Gentrup voted in favor of looking at revestment. Council members Jeff Watt, Paul Jenness and Rae Moore voted against. While all three in opposition spoke against racism at a recent council meeting, they worry about the precedent with private property the move would make.
“I believe this is private property,” Jenness said. “I believe racism and slavery are repugnant. I don’t want to be seen as defending any such group, but I don’t want us to acquire private property.”
Moore called the revestment move “invasive.”
“I don’t want to see us moving down a slippery slope,” she said.
Watt questioned if the city moved forward if other historical markers would be targeted.
“We have the Veterans Memorial there on a piece of vacant ground,” he said. “Could that be targeted, too?”
According to Missouri State Statute 214.035, the statute under public health and welfare, “…the title to any conveyed platted lots or designated pieces of ground, other than ground in which dead human remains are actually buried and all ground within two feet thereof, may be revested in the county, city, town or village …”
Since June, there have been petitions brought forward to seek removal of the Confederate monument as well as another to keep the piece. There have been hours of public comments given to the council, 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 its historical value.
Mayor Lyndell Brenton said he tried to hold meetings with five in favor of removing the statue and five who did not want it disturbed.
“I was trying to see if there is something they could all live with,” he said. “It was a nonofficial meeting and brought together leaders in hopes of a mutually agreeable solution that was citizen-led.”
Unfortunately, the chasm was too wide and too deep to overcome, Brenton said.
While there is a divide about what should be done with the monument, Graham said the process to collect comments and related civil community discourse reflects well on the community.
“In other communities, such issues are met with statues coming down,” he said. “While the issues are emotional, there have been discussions.”
Duncan also appreciates citizens’ thoughts on both sides of the issue.
“The placement in the cemetery complicates the issue,” he said. “... The statue is not in a public square, but a cemetery, which is a place of peace, rest and comfort. It is about the pursuit of dignity.”
Graham, who is also an attorney, agrees with the revestment move.
“There is no body buried directly there,” he said. “I believe it is time for us to explore what our rights are.”
Phillips said the Confederate flag on the monument base is what he finds offensive.
“It is a symbol of intimidation,” he said. “We should explore our options.”
In his agreeing to explore revestment, Hagan said previous testimonies from Theresa and AJ Byrd, both Black residents who grew up in Liberty and experienced acts of isolation that seemed augmented by passing the Confederate statue in the cemetery, stuck with him.
Gentrup, in favor of looking at revestment, dug into the minutes of previous meetings from the groups that helped erect the monument to help form his opinion.
“These were organizations that have opposed equal rights,” he said.
The next move in the process could include the city presenting in circuit court.