liberty court house

Dr. Robert Weagley’s Letter to Liberty City Council

Dear Mayor Brenton and members of the Liberty City Council –

I write to you as a fifth-generation, former resident of Liberty, Missouri. I am the son of former Liberty Mayor, Robert Weagley, Jr. and the great-great grandson of Elvira Murray. Granny Murray, as she is called by her descendants, and her husband moved to Liberty in the early 1800s and settled on property located on Leonard Street. They were slave-owners and the parents of “Plunk” Murray (who rode with Bloody Bill Anderson). She was a survivor of an attempted hanging at the hands of Union soldiers during the Civil War and a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. The Daughters of the Confederacy asked her to unveil the statue of the confederate soldier in Fairview cemetery – the focus of today’s debate. As her descendant, I support a decision to correct this early twentieth century attempt to maintain a future of white supremacy by those who lost that war.

My grandmother (Granny’s granddaughter) was my primary care giver when I was young. Granny played a large role in her upbringing. She was proud of Granny and her influence in the community. Proud of Granny’s relationship with the James Family, as well as their sons who she held out as heroes. Proud of the role Granny played during her life. She also never referred to a Black citizen by anything other than the N-word – which she used often. That was my “day-care” center.

While growing up, I noticed a different attitude in my parents, particularly my father. I learned a lot from him and his simple honest approach to life. He started his own business and early on would work for Black households, while many Liberty businesses would not. While not the noblest of reasons, I recall him telling me that their money was a green as ours. His role in civic politics also provided the opportunity to attend fish fries and other events at the predominantly Black churches of Liberty. I was very fortunate.

Later, while a student at Liberty High School (’70), Mike Fields, a black student two years my senior, became friends with several of us. One Saturday night in early 1968, a group of friends were at my parents’ house. When the evening ended, I decided that he could spend the night at our home, rather than driving him home. Of course, our sole guest room contained the same bed that my grandmother would sleep in when she stayed over. This was discovered after church the next day and she was livid. I’ll never forget her anger and her saying, “Either you disown him as your friend, or I am going to disown you”. My response was to tell her to go ahead and disown me. She did that week and, literally, two weeks later she died without a grandson to call her own. I have never regretted my choice.

Today, we are asking hard questions about what our responsibilities are to our collective future. Yes, I believe that all lives matter and blue lives matter, but no lives matter if black lives are treated with disdain, disrespect, and death. The events of early this year brought my attention back to the shameful role my family played in our history and I took interest in what might be done with the statue in Fairview Cemetery. Being a member of Christopher Harris’ “The History of Liberty, Missouri (1822 to present)” Facebook group, I was intrigued to find interest in the statue’s removal. Later, I met with Mr. Harris for a tour of the cemetery and the over 800 graves of slaves, former slaves, and their descendants – almost all unmarked – in the eastern most section of Fairview. As with much Black history, I knew nothing about the existence of this section of the cemetery. I have overcome my shock. I am still saddened, but I remain hopeful.

I am hopeful because I know how special the town of Liberty has been to so many people. A town with the name of Liberty, with a history of racism, has a responsibility to lead by redressing these remnants of her past. In fact, I believe that this can be done in such a way as to add to both the economic and educational vitality of our town. I look forward to discussions about what we can do today, in order to change tomorrow. It is time. Frankly, it is past time.

Sincerely,

Robert O. Weagley, Ph.D., CFP®