JEFFERSON CITY — Hundreds of people turned out for a Confederate memorial service Sunday held under the rebel battle flag as others demonstrated their disapproval outside the Missouri Governor’s Mansion.
The crowd at the annual ceremony at Confederate Memorial State Historic Site in Higginsville was about four times larger than organizers had expected. Site administrator Greta Marshall attributed the roughly 400-person turnout to the return of the Confederate flag.
The attention “over that issue caused more people to be aware of the event,” Marshall said after the ceremony, which featured a salute to various Confederate flags, the singing of “Dixie” and the laying of roses at a monument for fallen Confederate soldiers.
Republican Gov. Matt Blunt ordered a one-day flying of the Confederate flag at the historic site to coincide with the memorial service. Blunt said he was acting upon the request of a state lawmaker who represents the area.
Sunday marked the first time the Confederate flag had flown over state property since January 2003, when Democratic Gov. Bob Holden’s administration ordered it to come down from the Higginsville site and the Fort Davidson State Historic Site in Pilot Knob.
As the memorial service was going on in Higginsville, about 20 demonstrators carrying small American flags marched up and down the sidewalks outside the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City, about 90 miles to the east.
Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said they had no problem with the memorial service, just with Blunt’s decision to fly the Confederate flag. It was not clear whether Blunt was home during the demonstration.
“We recognize citizens have a right to honor their ancestors and heroes,” said protester Harold Crumpton, president of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP. “But they don’t have the right to use state funds and property to pass on the venom of their symbols of hatred.”
Crumpton contended President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, would have opposed Blunt’s action. But the governor’s spokesman said Blunt’s decision was made in the compassionate spirit of the Civil War president.
“The farthest thing from Lincoln’s mind would have been to interfere with fallen Confederate soldiers,” said Blunt spokesman Spence Jackson. “His stand of malice toward none and charity toward all was right then and it’s right today.”
About 800 people are buried at the 192-acre Confederate historic site in Higginsville, which formerly served as a state-run Confederate Veterans Home. The annual memorial service is scheduled near the June 3 birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Missouri never joined the Confederacy but was a divided state during the Civil War, with some residents fighting for the Union and others for the Confederacy.