Wichita Park Board members voted Monday to permanently keep the Confederate flag from flying at Veterans Memorial Park.
A Confederate battle flag had been displayed at the John S. Stevens Pavilion at Veterans Memorial Plaza near downtown since 1976, when it was placed there in a historical flag display as part of the nation’s bicentennial.
“It got a little heated in there,” park board member Ron Allen said of Monday’s meeting. “It was obvious there is still a divide between people – even in this state.
“Everybody who spoke, spoke with passion and tried to express their viewpoints. We sat there and listened to them.”
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The flag was removed July 2 by order of Mayor Jeff Longwell, who acknowledged then that he and City Council members received numerous e-mails and phone calls following the deadly shootings in June at a black church in South Carolina. The accused shooter in the incident posted pictures on social media of himself posing with the flag.
The Park Board recommended Monday to instead replace the flag with the Kansas flag and also approved plans for a Reconciliation Memorial that addresses the diverse and various sides of the Civil War.
“I can’t remember a meeting filled with more racial tension than the one I was at,” said Mark McCormick, director of the Kansas African American Museum who attended Monday’s meeting.
The Park Board’s conference room on the 11th floor of City Hall was filled to standing room only, he said.
The board postponed making a decision on the flag at its September meeting in order to allow for the Reconciliation Memorial to be designed.