A Free Country for White Men: The Legacy of Frank Blair Jr. and his Statue in St. Louis by Nick Sacco

When former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay suggested in April 2015 that the time had come for a “reappraisal” of a Confederate monument standing in the city’s popular Forest Park, few St. Louisians knew that such a statue even existed in the area.[1] The same could be said for three other Civil War statues at Forest Park dedicated to Unionist figures. Statues of General Franz Sigel, President Lincoln’s Attorney General Edward Bates, and politician and general Frank Blair, Jr. all stand as testaments to St. Louisians who supported and defended the United States during the Civil War. When it comes to historical memory, Blair’s 1888 statue is the most fascinating for what it celebrates and what it ignores about his legacy. His statue demonstrates how public iconography often translates historical fact into flawed memories that hide as much as they expose about the past.

An 1892 picture of a St. Louis biking club at the Frank Blair statue in Forest Park. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The text of Frank Blair’s statue states that:

This monument is raised to commemorate the Indomitable free-soil leader of the west; the herald and standard bearer of freedom in Missouri; the creator of the first volunteer Union army in the South; the saviour of the state from secession; the patriotic citizen-soldier, who fought from the beginning to the end of the war; the magnanimous statesman, who, as soon as the war was over, breasted the torrent of proscription, to restore to citizenship the disfranchised Southern people, and finally, the incorruptible public servant.[2]

As with many expressions of historical memory, this inscription glorifies the positive aspects of Blair’s legacy and plays up concepts like patriotism and loyalty. It represents what historian John Bodnar calls an “official” expression of memory, one that “relies on . . . the restatement of reality in ideal rather than complex or ambiguous terms. It presents the past on an abstract basis of timelessness and sacredness.”[3]

The entire article can be viewed on the Journal of the Civil War Era Muster blog.