wants Missouri Confederate flag pulled down
By Scott Charton Associated Press Writer 01/14/2003 11:36 AM
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri Democrat Dick Gephardt, who
declared after a visit to South Carolina that the Confederate flag
shouldn't fly ``anytime, anywhere,'' wants the flag pulled from a
publicly funded Confederate memorial in his home state, his spokesman
said. ``He did not know this existed, and he believes that flag should
come down also,'' Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith said Tuesday. Missouri
officials said Monday that Gephardt, the St. Louis congressman and a
2004 presidential hopeful, had never objected to the flag flying
year-round at the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site near
Higginsville, about 40 miles east of Kansas City. The congressman
shouldn't have any concern because the flag, over Missouri's largest
Confederate cemetery, is ``presented in historical context in a
respectful way,'' said Doug Eiken, Missouri's state parks director.
Gephardt initially sidestepped questions about the Confederate flag
during a campaign trip last week to South Carolina, where the flag's
display led to a black-supported economic boycott. But during the
weekend, Gephardt said the flag shouldn't be part of any ``official
display'' in South Carolina -- nor, he said, should it be displayed
anywhere else. ``My own personal feeling is that the Confederate flag no
longer has a place flying anytime, anywhere in our great nation,''
Gephardt said in a statement. The Confederate battle flag has flown for
decades at the 192-acre Missouri site, former location of a Confederate
veterans home, including a cemetery where remains of 694 Confederate
veterans and 108 wives are buried. The state-run site has a $22,000
annual operating budget financed from Missouri's parks and soils sales
tax. The flag flutters each day from a pole at the entrance to a chapel
next to the cemetery, beneath the Stars and Stripes flag. Around June 3,
the birthday of Jefferson Davis, miniatures of the Confederate flag are
placed on every grave. A plaque at the park entrance says it is
``dedicated to the valor of the Confederate soldiers.'' Smith, the
Gephardt spokesman, said the congressman had never spoken against the
flag's display at Higginsville because he wasn't aware of it. ``It's not
in the metropolitan St. Louis area and he wasn't aware of it. The
statement he issued in South Carolina stands,'' Smith said. Eiken, parks
chief since 1994, said he had ``never heard any critical comment from
any member of Missouri's congressional delegation'' about the flag
display. Curt Senn, the site's administrator, added: ``I've never had
someone come up and have a negative comment about it, and in fact, at
commemorative events, there have been many positive comments.'' On
Saturday, Gephardt issued a statement saying the flag that flies at the
Confederate Soldier Monument near South Carolina's Statehouse ``is a
hurtful, divisive symbol and in my view has no place flying anywhere, in
any state in this country.'' ``I want to be crystal clear to the people
of South Carolina where I stand on this issue,'' Gephardt said. ``I
think South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from any
official display anywhere in the state.'' In South Carolina, the flag
was removed from the Statehouse dome in July 2000 after a nationwide
economic boycott led by the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People. In a compromise to remove the flag from the dome, it was
put up at the Confederate monument that sits in front of the Statehouse.
state officials Tuesday took down the Confederate flags that long have
flown at two Civil War sites, after Rep. Richard A. Gephardt blasted any
display of such "a hateful and divisive symbol."
But the decision to remove the flags isn't likely to quell the
controversy. The leader of the state's division of the Sons of
Confederate Veterans is outraged, and says the issue will be raised at
the group's executive meeting this weekend.
"I am personally appalled that any of these people who make their
living off of my tax money, and the tax money of other Missouri
citizens, would turn around and desecrate American soldiers' graves by
taking down the flag they fought under," said Gene Dressel, state
commander for the Confederate group.
At Gephardt's behest, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources
ordered that the flags no longer be flown outside the Confederate
Memorial Historic Site near Higginsville and the Fort Davidson Historic
Site near Pilot Knob.
The flag at Higginsville had flown over a cemetery containing the
remains of Confederate soldiers and veterans.
The action was prompted by an Associated Press story that took note of
the Confederate flags flying in Gephardt's home state, at the same time
that he was campaigning for president in South Carolina and blasting
that state's decision to continue to fly the flag.
Gephardt, D-St. Louis County, replied that he was unaware that
Confederate flags were flown on any Missouri government property, and
then called for their removal.
Mary Still, communications director for Gov. Bob Holden and a former
Gephardt aide, said the controversy prompted her to call state natural
resources director Steve Mahfood and point out the congressman's
concerns. Still said she had been unable to first contact Holden.
Mahfood, in turn, ordered the flags to be taken down and moved inside
the historic sites' visitors centers.
Still says she didn't order Mahfood to take down the flags but asked him
to consider "whether it was appropriate to display the flags in
that manner." Mahfood says her call merely hastened a decision that
he'd been considering for some time.
"We've had a lot of concerns over the years about this issue,"
He said questions arose over whether it was appropriate to fly the
Confederate flags outside, from tall flag posts, instead of displaying
them lower where viewers could see the flags in context with others,
including the Union flag.
At both sites, the Confederate flags now "will be displayed inside
the visitors centers in a way befitting their historic context,"
Mahfood said. "Because of Missouri's very rich Civil War history,
we have a number of flags (Union and Confederate) that are in the
Gephardt press secretary Kori Bernards said the congressman "is
pleased with the decision. The flag is a hateful and divisive symbol. We
need to get beyond symbols like that that divide us and embrace those
that unite us."
Dressel, who lives in rural Warren County, said he was particularly
upset about the removal of the Confederate flag over the cemetery at
Higginsville, where it "has flown since the turn of the
Critics, including Gephardt, claim that the Confederate flag resurrects
the evils of slavery, which had been supported by the Confederate
government during the Civil War.
But Dressel said the Confederate flag is unfairly being tarred now with
the racist rhetoric of some white-rights extremist groups, rather than
recognized as an historic Civil War symbol.
His group, he said, "has repudiated any group that uses the
Confederate flag in any of these racist marches. It's these people who
are the problem, not the flag."
Dressel accused critics of trying to repudiate the nation's history,
good and bad. Slavery ships, he added, "flew under the United
States flag, not the Confederate flag."
Reporter Jo Mannies:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch