LIBERTY, Mo. — Change is in the air.
A Clay County cemetery, home to a Civil War era statue that represents pride to some and prejudice to others, has become the epicenter of controversy.
The statue, which sits in downtown Liberty’s Fairview and New Hope Cemeteries, depicts a nondescript Confederate soldier.
It’s been there for more than a century, and it stands about 50 yards from a section of the cemetery that was historically reserved for African-American burials only.
The statue is living proof that one man’s history is another person’s hurt.
Shelton Ponder, a local author, grew up in Liberty. The 77-year-old said he’s always wished that statue would go away.
Ponder’s family tree includes people from the Civil War era, and the statue reminds him, as well as other African-Americans in Clay County, of the oppression their forefathers endured.
“They turned things to where they could take their ideology — Jim Crow, Black Coats and all that stuff — and perpetuate it,” Ponder said. “When you see one of those (statues), that’s what it signifies. No matter what they say.”
The cemetery property is owned by the city of Liberty.
Others contend the history of the region must be preserved, including Cana Cushatt. She said she supports the Black Lives Matter movement, but removal of monuments is a step too far.
“I don’t think it will aid the situation,” Cushatt told FOX4. “We support it because it’s part of history. There’s parts of history that are good and bad. We don’t think removing a statue can remove or change history. You can’t.”
Online petitions representing both sides of the argument have surfaced. As of Thursday evening, more than 1,000 people have signed either one or the other.
Local historian Chris Harris takes more of a centrist standpoint. He decries the era of slavery as being one of “the deepest, darkest” times in Liberty history.
Whether or not the statue is moved, Harris believes it has educational value and could be used to teach future generations about the evils of racial persecution.
“If it is taken down, I believe it should be put somewhere or used as a history teaching tool. It’s a negative, but it could be useful in teaching history to both races,” Harris said.
Harris also believes the debate and inherent racial connotations surrounding the statue are useful.
He hopes these conversations continue and that both sides of the debate can come to a better understanding of each other’s values.