Sterling Price is in the crosshairs again.
The latest online petition to remove a century-old monument honoring the Confederate general and his troops from Springfield National Cemetery garnered more than 2,500 signatures this week, renewing criticism of the installation amid a national reckoning on American racism and its embodiment in the Confederacy.
Jared Cantrell, the petition’s author, cast his request as a natural extension of the recent protests demanding justice for George Floyd, who died in Minnesota police custody, as well as the dismantling of systemic racism.
“Now is the time to use the momentum of the Black Lives Matter protests as a catalyst of change,” Cantrell wrote. “There are many men and women buried at the Springfield National Cemetery of all colors and creeds. Sterling Price is not someone who deserves to be placed on a pedestal above them.”
To emphasize his point, Cantrell noted the Price was a slaveowner and traitor to the United States who led troops to kill loyal Americans.
Cantrell said removing the monument would also be a way to counter recent missteps, like the passage of a 2017 state law that made it harder to sue for racial discrimination and a 2015 referendum in Springfield that saw the residents vote down a City Council-approved ordinance meant to curb discrimination against LGBTQ residents.
“These moments are detrimental to the future success of our state,” Cantrell wrote. “It is time to prove that Missouri is capable of change. It is time to bury Sterling Price.”
Price, who led the Confederate-allied Missouri State Guard at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek south of town, appears on the monument’s base below a statue of an unidentified Confederate soldier.
Above Price’s head are the words “To the memory of the Missouri Soldier in the Army of the Confederate States of America,” a reference to the nearby dead interred in what was originally a Confederate-only burial site.
On another side of the monument, the words “They fought for the right of self government” sit atop a relief of the Confederate battle flag.
The memorial was erected in 1901 for the United Confederate Veterans of Missouri.
Cantrell emphasized he had no quarrel with the Confederate dead in the ground and did not want to remove any of them.
But he said Confederates deserve no monument above ground, especially one that glosses over the fact that the men fought for a government dedicated to keeping Black people in bondage.
“They were enemies of the United States,” he said. “And it’s time we come to terms with that.”
Jeremy Neely, a Civil War historian at Missouri State University, said he understood the argument.
He acknowledged that some see removing Confederate monuments as erasing history, but said he takes a different view.
“If they were talking about destroying historic manuscripts from the Civil War, that’s indefensible,” he said. “But statues and monuments are celebrations designed to honor great people and their values.”
He noted that the monument and many others like it across the country were erected between the 1890s and 1960s, an era of segregation and suppression of Black people’s right to vote.
“Times have changed since then,” he said, “and the idea that they still fit is, to me, pretty dubious.”
It’s not clear whether the petition will prompt any immediate action. There has been at least one other online petition posted to no avail.
A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration said in an email Friday that the VA has “no plans to disturb” the 32 monuments and memorials for Confederate war dead it maintains “per federal law.”
Cantrell said he expected that, though.
“I know this is going to be an ongoing discussion, but it’s one we need to have,” he said.
Similar discussions are going on in cities and governments across the country.
The governor of Virginia said last week he would order a Robert E. Lee statue removed in Richmond, the former Confederate capital. The mayor of the city said he would soon propose removing four more.
And in Congress, Democrats and Republicans are pushing plans to require the military to rename 10 Army installations named for Confederate Army officers despite resistance from President Donald Trump.
U.S. Sen Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, has vocally opposed the plan, saying such a move would effectively “erase” history.
But Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri’s other Republican senator and a former history teacher in Marshfield, told reporters this week he doesn’t oppose name changes and pointed out that there have been many generals since the Civil War who could be honored.
“Braxton Bragg was probably the worst commanding general in the Confederate army,” Blunt added, referring to the namesake of the Army’s largest base. “Interesting general to name a fort after.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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