By Astrid Zeppenfeld
On June 8th, Cape Girardeau celebrated an important part of its history with the addition of a statue to its city park where several Union and Confederate Soldiers were memorialized. About two years ago, the Cape Girardeau City Council renamed Common Pleas Courthouse Park. It became Ivers Square, in honor of James Ivers and his wife, Harriet.
James Ivers, a former Cape Girardeau slave, was among the 200 black men who enlisted in the Cape Girardeau Union Army in 1865. Shortly after he started serving in the Union Army, he died of an illness. History was both unveiled and made on June 8th, when we could see the bronze statue of a USCT Soldier in his and the other soldier’s honor.
Of the 718 monuments and statues to the Confederacy in the United States, only a negligible percentage depict African American men. Alexa and Alex Campbell, descendants of James Ivers, unveiled the statue before it was dedicated by officials. They had traveled to Missouri from Virginia, together with their mother, Helen Campbell. Brenda Newbern, Executive Director of Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitor Bureau, told us that “The event was a wonderful time; despite the rain, it was a great reception by the community.” Newbern truly cherished being able to meet the descendants of the Ivers’. We also want to thank her for sharing the local news story with us, in which Sarah LaVenture, Old Town Cape special projects coordinator, quoted: “The impact for the city itself is, this puts [Cape Girardeau] on the map as being an inclusive community.”
State Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, described Saturday’s ceremony as “unifying”. Local newspapers quoted her saying, “And that is the importance of it. Many of us, across all races and religions, fought for a unified cause, and it’s time that we recognize the contributions of everyone.”
Local historian Denise Lincoln, who was present for the ceremony, put it into these words, “You think about it, you dream about it, but when it’s here, it’s a blessing.” She said, “the whole neighborhood, the whole city, the whole region is called to remember that where we are standing, something else happened.”
The crowd of 250 people stood on the very site of what used to be the city’s slave auction block; a painful but important choice for the placement of this statue. Old Town Cape executive director Marla Mills recognizes that the statue’s presence “helps us more fully realize our complete history.” According to Mills, it “furthers the organization’s mission by recognizing the contributions made by the African-American community.”
The event was covered by the Southeast Missourian newspaper, who elaborated: “Southeast graduate Michael McKeever was bedecked in a period-specific wartime uniform, ready for the upcoming re-enactment alongside nearly 15 others. He was representing Company H, the 6th Florida Infantry Regiment military company of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. According to the Southeast Missourian, McKeever summed up, “We need to understand where we came from, the good stuff as well as the mistakes, because that’s the only way that you grow, as an individual or as a country.”
The Marine Corps League was represented for Retrieval of the Colors, the Turner Brigade was responsible for the Gun Salute, and the Black Light Choral Ensemble was present with musical performances of “Down by the Riverside”, among others, and “America, the Beautiful”, which was the final song that was joined in by the audience. The event also featured actor portrayals by Marlene Rivero and Marvin-Alonzo Greer, and Bankole Agbon officiated a libation ceremony.
It was amazing how many people traveled to Cape Girardeau from far away for this regional event. Our very own Vikki Matthews from St. Louis was in attendance, representing Missouri Meetings & Events, and she had nothing but positive things to say about what a wonderful time it was. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t just a regional, historical event, the dedication of a black Civil War soldier’s commemorative statue? Any event, anywhere, in June, is – at this point – a historical event.
No, the unveiling of the third black soldier’s memorial in the United States, a black soldier who served in the Union Army, is a historic event, because we can only consider the most memorable historical events historic. And the dedication of the statue to James Ivers and the many other soldiers this June means more than ever before, especially in today’s world.
Astrid Zeppenfeld is a writer and MM&E’s editor/business development manager from St. Louis.