Flag measure toned down in parks board legislation

Thursday, February 3, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The sponsor of legislation prompted by the removal of Confederate flags from two state-run Civil War historic sites has dropped a provision requiring the restoration of those banners -- a move intended to mollify opponents who have successfully blocked the measure in the past.

The bill would vest the Missouri State Parks Board with authority over historical markers on state property. At present, the eight-member board merely advises the Missouri Division of State Parks and has no actual power.

Southeast Missouri lawmakers first filed the bill in 2003 after the then-director of the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the parks division, unilaterally ordered the controversial flags hauled down at the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site, a Confederate veterans cemetery at Higginsville, and the Fort Davidson State Historic Site at Pilot Knob.

In presenting the bill to a Senate committee on Wednesday, state Sen. Kevin Engler, its sponsor, said it would be better for a group of knowledgeable citizens to make such determinations.

"It will go before the board rather than one person making decisions of that magnitude," said Engler, R-Farmington.

As proposed for the last two years, the bill mandated that the Confederate flags be re-raised at the sites until such time as the parks board voted to remove them. That provision sparked a fierce outcry among black lawmakers, who view the flag as a symbol of racism.

The current version contains no such requirement. If flag supporters want them restored, they would have to make their case to the parks board.

"That should be a decision that is not forced," Engler said. "Those are the types of decisions that should be made by the board."

Southern heritage enthusiast Bruce Hillis of Dexter told the committee the bill would provide Missourians with an opportunity to voice their opinions when changes at state historic sites are proposed.

No opposition to the measure came before the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, Parks and Natural Resources Committee, which will vote on the matter at a later date.

According to Hillis, the banner that flew at the Fort Davidson site in Iron County was what Civil War buffs call the "second national" flag of the Confederacy. The one at the Higginsville cemetery in northern Missouri was the popularly recognized Confederate battle flag.

The bill is SB 193.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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