Bill restoring Confederate flags clears House committee

Thursday, February 26, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Over the strong objections of two black lawmakers, a House committee on Wednesday endorsed legislation that would require Confederate flags be restored -- at least temporarily-- at two state historical sites.

"From what I know, the Confederate flag is about hatred and bigotry and all those things that go with hate crimes," said state Rep. Betty Thompson, D-St. Louis.

State Rep. Rodney Hubbard, who like Thompson is black, compared the institution of slavery, which he said the Confederacy represented, to the Holocaust.

"This is a bad bill," said Hubbard, D-St. Louis. "To me the flag represents something that is racist and that tried to bring about the demise of an entire people."

Despite those concerns, the House Corrections and State Institutions Committee voted 6-4 to forward the bill to the full chamber. Republicans supported the bill while Democrats opposed it in the party-line vote.

Establishes state board

The two Southeast Missouri lawmakers who serve on the panel -- state Reps. Lanie Black, R-Charleston and Dan Ward, D-Bonne Terre -- were absent for the vote.

On its face the bill sponsored by state Reps. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, and J.C. Kueussner, D-Eminence, has nothing to do with Confederate flags. The measure would establish an eight-member Missouri State Park Board that would make decisions concerning monuments and memorials on state property.

However, the measure contains a provision mandating that any memorials altered since December 2002 be immediately restored to their prior condition.

That would nullify Missouri Department of Natural Resources director Stephen Mahfood's January 2003 order removing Confederate flags that had long flown at the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site, a cemetery in Higginsville, and the Fort Davidson State Historic Site in Pilot Knob.

The flags would remain in place unless the park board, after hearing public testimony on the issue, determined that they should be hauled down.

State Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit, said the proposal would prevent unilateral decisions such as Mahfood's and provide Missourians with due process concerning changes at historical sites.

"All this does is set up a process for eight citizens to hear these complaints," Johnson said.

State Rep. Merrill Townley, R-Chamois, said the state shouldn't be in the business of editing history, even the unpleasant episodes.

"Our children need to grow up recognizing how things used to be and how much progress we made," Townley said.

Hubbard said his opposition isn't about historical revision.

"Those certain parts of our history we are not proud of should not be glamorized," Hubbard said.

Similar legislation sponsored by state Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, cleared an upper chamber committee with little controversy on Feb. 12 but hasn't yet been reported to the full Senate for consideration.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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