Politics & Government

Confederate battle flag removed from Wichita’s Veterans Park

A Confederate battle flag in downtown Wichita was removed Thursday by city officials.

The flag will remain down – at least temporarily – Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said during a Thursday news briefing. City officials are expected to meet with veterans groups Monday night to discuss the flag’s future.

“At this point, the city has made the decision to temporarily take down the Confederate flag that has been flying inside of Veterans Memorial Park,” he said. “Our intent is to get beyond this divisiveness that is represented in this symbol and continue our dialogue with the veterans who have earned the right to provide guidance on the monuments installed in that park.”

Longwell acknowledged he and City Council members have received countless e-mails and phone calls since the issue recently surfaced a few weeks ago following a deadly shooting in South Carolina.

“What we want the community to understand, the council really, truly appreciates the feedback we have been getting from folks on both sides on this issues,” he said. “We have the utmost respect for their diverse and passionate points of view.”

Longwell said if it is decided that the Confederate flag will remain permanently removed, discussions will then include what would be a fitting tribute in its place and what the Confederate flag’s role is in Kansas.

For now, an empty flag pole in a sea of waving flags is all that remains of where the Confederate flag was flown.

“The issue reflects our diverse heritage, our values and patriotism and we want to get it right,” Longwell said. “And we will … with the help of many in the community. We will get it right.”

A Confederate flag has flown in the John S. Stevens Pavilion at Veterans Memorial Park near downtown Wichita since 1976 when a historic flags pavilion was created as part of the nation’s bicentennial.

At the time, 13 historic flags were chosen for display by teachers, politicians, city officials, veterans and residents. The flags were chosen to commemorate “the diversity of purposes and peoples who have contributed to this Country’s enrichment,” a plaque reads at the site.

Longwell said that by removing the flag temporarily, he hopes it will create an open, honest dialogue with the stakeholders in the veterans parks.

City Council member Lavonta Williams, who is the only black council member, attended the Thursday briefing and said she wants the flag to remain down permanently.

“I would prefer it would stay down,” Williams said. “But I do agree that we must take care of the stakeholders.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle