Elson Floyd died June 20. He was 59. Complications from colon cancer.

A lot of people have recalled his four years as University of Missouri System President as a progressive administration at a time when the legislature was deciding higher education wasn’t worth the financial support it had been getting. The economy was in bad shape after the 2001 terrorist attacks, you might remember.

The student newspaper at the University of Missouri-Columbia, The Maneater, takes credit for giving Floyd his nickname, E-Flo. Floyd was a personable president who enjoyed his relationships with students. He left in 2007 to become the President of Washington State University.

He took over at Missouri when the legislature was cutting the university budget by $200 million. Floyd made painful cuts and worked hard to keep tuition as affordable as possible under the circumstances but the university still increased tuition by twenty percent in his first year in office.

Floyd is remembered by many because he tried to get Northwest Missouri State into the University of Missouri System. He convinced the university system to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Two university research parks were started while he was there. Scholarships were increased for disadvantaged students. Enrollment increased. He elevated the university’s image as a significant part of state economic development.

His tenure was blemished by basketball player Ricky Clemons, who left a Columbia halfway house to attend a July 4th party at the Floyd house. He had to deal with a faculty mutiny at UMKC because of the behavior of the campus chancellor.

But I remember him because he made a phone call real early one morning.

Southwest Missouri State University for years had wanted to change its name to Missouri State University and the push intensified in 2005. The University of Missouri quickly adopted a bunker mentality and started forecasting that the sky would fall if the second-largest university in the state were allowed to change its name. Forget that most other states have a ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­”­­­­­________ State.” Forget that Southwest Missouri State had long ago outgrown its regional name. Columbia campus partisans were convinced the University of Missouri would be devastated if not destroyed if Southwest Missouri State changed its name. Mizzou was the state’s foremost research university and its status would be threatened if that bunch in Springfield were allowed to change the school name and keep growing in influence.

The Mizzou Alumni Association tried to mobilize the alumni to overwhelm lawmakers with opposition. Heck, ten members of the Senate in 2005 had degrees from the Columbia campus. Five more had degrees from UMKC or UMSL. Only four were graduates of Southwest Missouri State. If all of the Missouri system graduates in the Senate opposed the idea, it wouldn’t fly.  But not all of them did.

The Alumni Association showed no interest in rational discussion of the issues. It became an accelerator-to-the-firewall opposition organ for UMC. This MU grad who got the fevered letters and the alumni magazine with its over-the-top condemnation of the very idea of a name change for Southwest Missouri State wondered if the folks in Columbia were suffering a worrying decline in rationality. Some pointed letters to the association went back from an address that coincides with the house where I live or from my email address in response to the “fire in the theatre” emails I was getting.

Those exchanges are probably in a file somewhere. In one of them I suggested it would be more proper for the state’s leading university to support the efforts of all institutions of higher education to lift themselves to a higher standing and standard instead of trying to pound one growing university back into its place.   I thought Southwest Missouri State president Charles Keiser had a good point when he said, “The name doesn’t describe something the University wants to become; it describes what we are,”  Keiser and Elson Floyd had been discussing the issue for some time.

Late in the game, UMC partisans came up with the most outlandish claim of all. UMC’s status is carved in stone and cannot be changed, they claimed. They pointed to the words “State University” carved into part of the stone wall of the resources museum at the capitol to mean that the University of Missouri is THE state university and therefore no other school can call itself Missouri State University.

The words were carved about 1915 when Missouri had one state university and a series of regional normal schools, or teachers colleges. It was not important in 2005 that Missouri’s normal school were or had been re-named (Region) STATE UNIVERSITY. I pointed out that the words were carved in the same wing of the state museum that listed the state’s other resources then, some of which had lost their status as primary resources in the years since. The folks in Columbia also didn’t take too kindly to the idea that if opponents of Southwest Missouri State’s name change wanted things to stay as they had been in 1915 they should be glad for the legislature to cut funding for UMC to 1915 levels, including salaries of faculty and administrators.

All of the alarms UMC was sounding didn’t keep the House from passing the name change bill, overwhelmingly, 120-35. When it got to the Senate, Columbia Senator Chuck Graham (a University of Illinois graduate representing the University of Missouri) launched a filibuster, hoping to kill the bill. He seized the floor about 7:30 on a February night.

While Graham and a few friends rattled on and on about what a terrible thing this would be, negotiations were going on behind the scenes. SMS had a couple of people trying to find some language that would make sure SMS would not gobble up the Columbia campus if the bill passed. I was at the press table watching all of this play out, hoping the talkathon would end before I had to drag myself to the Missourinet newsroom to do my morning newscasts.

About 3:30 a.m., Graham or one of his cohorts—I think it was Graham—said he’d relinquish the floor if Floyd asked him to. That led one of the SMS negotiators to call Floyd, who called the University curators. That’s when he called the capitol and said it was time to end all of this. Stop the filibuster. Let the bill come to a vote. I was in the newsroom by then, listening to the ongoing debate on the internet while preparing the morning’s newscasts.

But Mizzou wanted a pound or two of flesh. About 5:30 a.m., Graham—as I recall—met with one of the SMS folks and demanded some protective wording be added to the bill that limited what Missouri State University could do. SMS could never become a land-grant university, which meant that the school could not get federal funding that goes with the designation. It couldn’t offer professional programs duplicating those in Columbia. It can’t call itself a research institution. In retrospect, the changes appear to be more about saving some face for the Columbia interests than burdening Missouri State University.

So the bill was passed at about 7 a.m.  The House approved the amendment and sent the bill to Governor Matt Blunt who signed it on March 17, saying “There was a real spirit of cooperation on this. President Keiser and Dr. Floyd were able to understand that they could work together to provide the degree programs that will be beneficial to Missouri students.”

I don’t recall the University Alumni Association making any such graceful statements afterward.

That was ten years ago this year.   And what do we see this decade later?

Well, the columns are still standing in Columbia. Jesse Hall has not collapsed. The University of Missouri-Columbia has built a lot of new buildings and is fixing up old ones and the student population has boomed so much that student apartments are being thrown up all over the place, and there are no pieces of the sky laying on the ground.

Claudette Riley looked at what has happened to Missouri State in the decade since that long night and the months of overwrought rhetoric coming out of the Columbia campus in an article in the Springfield News-Leader on June 22, two days after Elson Floyd’s death. “The new moniker is widely credited with raising the profile of Springfield’s largest education institution. It has also been credited with fueling the university’s ongoing ush to grow and diversity enrollment, expand academic offerings, and increase private giving—which, in turn, helps pay for better buildings,” she wrote.

Today’s school president, Clif Smart, is quoted as saying, “It would be hard for you to pick a factor that the name change didn’t impact.” And the VP for research and economic development and international programs, jim Baker, told her, “There is a status attached to the name. There is a pride that goes with it. I don’t think we’d have 24,000 students now if we didn’t change the name.”

One result that Columbia partisans would have shuddered at the thought of a decade ago is what Riley calls “MSU’s strong, collaborative relationship with the University of Missouri system.”   Smart says MSU and UMC are now closer to being partners, noting, “We are a statewide university and they’re much more comfortable interacting with us.”

At a time when the University of Missouri was at its blustering, intimidating best, its president said it was time to stop, and let another school call itself what it already was.

The tributes to E-Flo that this scribe has seen haven’t mentioned what might be his greatest and still growing legacy. He was the man who made a phone call early one morning that changed higher education in Missouri. A statesman called a politician one day and generations will benefit from the opportunities they will have because he did.


The future of our past

Sixteen days before Christmas when I was a high school freshman, I dashed out the front door of my central Illinois farmhouse, avoided falling over Mac the dog who liked to run alongside of me when I ran for the school bus, and headed to Sullivan High School for the day’s class.  

I was called out of PE class that afternoon and taken to the principal’s office where Augie Adams, a family friend who rented our pasture for his horses, met me. “Do you know where your mother is?” he asked. “She’s driving my dad around on his territory,” I said. Dad had had a heart attack the previous summer and was not yet cleared to drive to visit the farm equipment dealers in his territory. A relieved look came over Augie’s face. “Well, your house just burned down and we found your mother’s car in the garage but we couldn’t find her,” he said.      

That was how I learned that the only things I had left in the world were my parents, the clothes I was wearing, and the things I had in the gym bag I had carried to the bus that morning.  

As I grow older and consider the things I want my grandchildren to know about the family, I think of all that was lost in that fire. Pictures mostly, but also letters and trinkets that meant something to the family. My father built C-54s at the Douglas Aircraft factory near Chicago during World War II and I remember some of the keepsakes he had of those days (the factory is now O’Hare Field). I think of my great-grandfather’s little Civil War pistol that he carried when he was a fifer at Vicksburg for the 126th Illinois Infantry. I think of a baseball card collection. People think of all kinds of little things as well as the big things when there’s nothing left after a disaster.

This life experience is why I have anxiously followed the several-year effort of the State Historical Society to get a legislative appropriation for a new Center for Missouri Studies that the society wants to build in Columbia. Executive Director Gary Kremer has led that effort through a lot of disappointments until this year when the legislature included $35 million in a bond issue bill for the center. During the time it took Gary and others working closely with him to convince the legislature and the governor to pass and sign the bill, the estimated costs have gone up a few million dollars. The society trustees have voted to contribute and help raise the amount needed to fill the gap. If things go smoothly, the new facility will open in 2018 on some land between the University of Missouri-Columbia and the downtown area of the city. It will be on Elm Street, across from Peace Park.

(Truth in advertising moment: I am a vice-president of the society)

The State Historical Society of Missouri has been housed in the Elmer Ellis Library at the University of Missouri-Columbia since the library was opened 99 years ago. It has been a resource for tens of thousands of students from dozens of disciplines, not just those majoring in history, and for thousands of other researchers looking for stories and lessons that the past can tell. The Center for Missouri Studies will be an even more important resource giving all who seek to put their careers, their lives, their communities, in context.

We have lived in fear for some time that something would happen in that library basement that is the society’s home that would damage or destroy records that tell us how we came to be the state—and the people of the state—that we are. A broken steam pipe, a water leak, a fire—we have experienced these things in recent years which adds to the urgency of this project. A few years ago, you might recall, a disenchanted young man set several fires in the library in the middle of the night. Although the fires caused no damage in our quarters, the water used to put them out caused extensive damage to our facilities. A few pages of important old documents were damaged but somehow our archives escaped the flow that made our administrative offices unusable for months. Thankfully the water did not pour into the storage area where we have more than $100-milion in art works by Bingham, Benton, and others. The bullet missed us, but just barely. We have lived with elevated fear since then.

The society headquarters, and thus Missouri history, now are tucked away at the end of a shaded sidewalk, almost unnoticeable to the thousands of people who walk through the area. Our history deserves better than a precarious existence in an obscure location. And Missouri history finally is getting that something better.                                         society building

This isn’t just a building. It’s a statement. It says history isn’t just a bunch of musty, dusty records; it’s life. The society is not a storehouse, a place in a basement where we keep old stuff that’s no longer used. It is, instead, a place of discovery, of adventure, and learning who we are and how we got to be who we are.   The building will be US. It says Missouri history has value. It says Missouri history is a dynamic story still being written. It says Missouri history is central to understanding who we are as a people, as a state, as a nation. This is the state that was the opening door to everything that is the American West.

Missouri history is American history. The Revolution? Records of the people who lived in what became Missouri in those years will be here. War of 1812? It wasn’t all fought in the east and the northeast. It was here in Missouri, too. The words of Lewis and Clark will be here. The personal passion and tragedy of the Civil War are in the letters, journals, diaries, and other records that will be here. Records of the cruelty of slavery will be preserved here as will be the cruelty of Reconstruction.

The growth of our towns, the highways that connect them, and the businesses that gave and give us jobs will be in this building. The world wars, the depression, the civil rights movements—all of them will be here. Missouri in all of its nobility and narrowness, in all of its heroism and its cowardice, in its compassion and its hate will be in this building.

Dedicated staff guide visitors to that information in today’s inadequate quarters, hoping nothing bad happens until that great moving day into the Center for Missouri Studies. No other building in the state will be able to tell the stories of the state and its people as emphatically as this one will be able to tell them.  

Our history deserves to come out of the shadows and into the sunlight. And the sunlight will be bright for the future of our past with this new building.



It is NOT the Fourth of July

A lot of folks traveled during the holiday weekend and many found themselves in communities that held special festivals to observe the holiday.  We attended one of those events.

The banner on the downtown stage read, “Salute to America.”  But the master of ceremonies corrected that impression almost immediately by announcing the event was a salute to veterans, especially Vietnam veterans.  And through various pieces of music and introductions, veterans stood up and sat down more times than in a church praise service.

No such ceremony is complete without an inspirational speaker, of course, and the speaker in this event was a veteran who tried to touch on every patriotic cliché he could in a 15-minute jumbled speech that I hope he wasn’t paid for: Mom (applause), apple pie (applause), hot dogs (applause), home (applause).   The event was partly sponsored by a Chevrolet dealer but he didn’t mention it so there was no applause for that one. There was a brief mention of the Declaration and five seconds later he was talking about the Constitution and he finished by reciting the Preamble to the Constitution to emphasize that government could only do so much.

And after the rifle salute by the American Legion and taps, the emcee closed things out by redundantly exulting, “God Bless the USA. God Bless America.”  And there was some applause and some people went home to a late dinner and others stuck around for a stage show.

As I folded my chair and wrestled it back in its zippered bag, I grumbled to myself and some nearby friends about (this will get me in trouble) how veterans had hijacked the event.

On further review, as they say in some sports these days, I realized that was a rash evaluation of something done with good intentions and for those whose neck instantly grew red in reading the preceding paragraph, I offer my apologies–although one of those friends suggested having veterans stand up at such events is a pretty shallow gesture, given the problems thousands of veterans continue to have getting help for the burdens they have brought back from the battlefield.

The problem with the event we witnessed is that the wrong veterans were honored.  And behind that problem is the matter that the event was a celebration of July 4th.

The holiday is not July 4th.  It’s Independence Day.

It’s the day our country was born–at great risk by men of incredible vision and courage.   We as a nation cannot forget what this holiday is really all about. But by holding a “July 4th celebration,” we do.

We would not think of calling Veterans Day by its calendar date, November 11th.  We wouldn’t think of calling Memorial Day by its calendar date, whatever Monday that might be year-to-year. Those are days honoring veterans and we refer to them by their currently correct names (although they were once known as Armistice Day and Decoration Day).

July 4th is Independence Day.   And if we are to honor veterans that day, let us honor veterans such as David Bedell, Thomas Kennedy, Christopher Casey, William Ramsey, James Parks, Thomas Wyatt, Samuel Steele, Stephen Hempstead, and Edward Robertson.

These men are among several dozen soldiers of the American Revolution who came to and died in Missouri.  Some are buried in our oldest cemeteries.  Some are buried in remote countryside burial grounds.  The grave of at least one has been plowed over.   These men fought in the war that gave us a nation free of foreign control and then moved west with the frontier to live out their dream of a free country.  Some became respected elders in their communities.  They were the original Sons of the American Revolution.

Independence Day is when the delegates to the Continental Congress approved a declaration declaring the thirteen colonies are “free and independent states…absolved from all allegiance to the British crown…and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.”  And furthermore, they were united in this position.

It was the first time that the thirteen independent colonies declared that they were the United States of America, not a series of colonies of the British crown.

It was not a document drafted on the spur of the moment.  Movements toward independence had been underway in several places before the declaration of separation, even before the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre.  But this document was when those colonies decided enough was enough, scattered protestations of oppression were not adequate.

The closing line of that declaration is an important one to ponder on Independence Day.  It is an unmistakable statement that these congressional delegates were prepared to risk everything to achieve the status of an independent nation to be respected by other nations, including England, as equals.  “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” they said.   In the years to come before that independence was finally wrested from England, those words came starkly true for many of those who signed the document.

Those men knew exactly the risks they were taking.  On the day Congress declared independence, July 2, the British fleet and the British army arrived in New York, not that far away from Philadelphia even then.   That threatening presence did not keep the delegates from adopting the Declaration of Independence on the morning of July 4, when John Hancock signed it.  Later that day, printer John Dunlap printed the first copies of the document, of which two dozen are known to still exist.  The first newspaper publication of the Declaration of Independence was on July 6 in the Pennsylvania Evening Post and two days later, the document was read to a public audience for the first time, at a Philadelphia park. It didn’t take long for word to reach New York.

The delegates who had adopted the document on July 4 did not gather to sign it until August 2, the day a large force of British troops arrived as reinforcements in New York after colleagues of Bedell, Casey, Hempstead, Ramsey and the others had repelled them in Charleston, South Carolina.

If we only have a July 4th celebration, we lose the importance of Independence Day.  If July 4th becomes another day just to honor veterans, we lose sight of the courage and intelligence of those who knew they were risking everything to throw off oppression and declare their thirteen colonies to be worthy of respect as a nation by the other nations of the world and we slight those who rest in Missouri graves who came here to live the dream they fought to create.  If Independence Day is just July 4th, we fail to honor those who gave us a nation to celebrate.

It’s not too much to realize Independence Day deserves to stand on its own values.  It’s not July 4th.  It is so much more than that and we do a disservice to ourselves, our freedoms, our possibilities, and our country if we make it anything less.

And for the benefit of the speaker at the event I attended, the Constitution has its own day on September 17.  It is known as Constitution Day and is not widely celebrated with festivals and speeches, organized or jumbled.  And it is not celebrated as just September 17th.   Those who advocate for Constitution Day say it is intended to commemorate “the formation and the signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on September 17, 1787, recognizing all who, are by being born in the U.S. or by naturalization, have become citizens.” Some might argue that Constitution Day should have a broader meaning than that, but that argument is for another day and perhaps for another place.

Constitution Day deserves better than it gets.  And so, certainly, does Independence Day. It’s not just July 4th.


Missing in action at Vicksburg

Vicksburg National Military Park has more than 1350 monuments, plaques, tablets, and markers commemorating people and incidents during the Civil War siege that ended today in 1863.  Many of those markers note places where the 27 Union and 15 Confederate units from Missouri were based or fought.  The large Missouri monument is at a place where two Missouri units fought each other.


The monument was dedicated in 1917 after a special commission was appointed by the Governor to determine the position of Missouri troops during the siege, which began after Union attacks for a week in mid-May left 110 Union soldiers from Missouri and 113 Missouri Confederates dead.  The report says 971 Missourians from both sides were wounded, 525 from the attacking Union side. More would die during the siege.  Total casualties at the end of the Vicksburg engagement reached 19,000 killed and wounded.

The Missouri monument is situated between opposing army positions.


And the Union side under Francis Preston Blair Jr., is marked just over the crest of the hill tot he right of the memorial.


Frank Blair Jr., was the son of one of Lincoln’s top advisers and the man who built Blair House, across the street from the White House.

The Missouri Memorial is one of the biggest state memorials in the park and is one of two Missouri memorials on Civil War Battlefields—the other one is at Shiloh and was dedicated in 1971.  It’s the only memorial that is dedicated to soldiers on both sides of the battle.

Not far from the Missouri monument is another symbol of Missouri’s presence.  It’s the remains of the ironclad U. S. S. Cairo, which was built at Carondelet, south of St. Louis at the time, by James B. Eads, who is best known for building the Eads Bridge several years after the war.


The Cairo was one of six ironclads that made up the first ironclad ships of war in the history of the U.S. Navy.  It was sunk in the nearby Yazoo River in December, 1862 at a time when Union forces were trying to figure out the best way to attack Vicksburg.  The remains of it were raised a century later and re-assembled on a wooden frame so visitors can walk through the boat today and get an idea of what the first American ironclad ships of war were like.

When General John Pemberton finally surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863, he mused that he might have won the battle if he had had 10,000 more Missourians.

But there’s something a little odd about a couple of the markers at the battlefield.  Visitors arriving at the visitor center parking lot are likely to walk past two stone monuments that list the states that had troops involved in this battle.  The one for the Union Army lists eight states.


And the one for Confederate Army lists seven states.


But Missouri is MIA on the monuments that visitors first see at the park.  Generals from Missouri– Grant, Sherman, and others–were on the winning side.  And the Pennsylvanian who commanded the losing side wished he had ten thousand more men from Missouri.

It’s a curious part of the park which has memorials within it honoring soldiers from fourteen Confederate states and eighteen union states and tombstones for a number of Missouri soldiers buried at the Vicksburg Military Park Cemetery.  We don’t know how many are there because seventy-five percent of the Civil War dead buried there are unknown—13,000 of the 17,000 burials of casualties at Vicksburg and at other battle sites in the southeast United States during the war. No Missouri Confederates are buried there although two or three Confederate soldiers were mistakenly buried there in the late 1860s.  It’s the nation’s largest cemetery for Civil War Veterans.

Confederate soldiers who died of bullets or disease at Vicksburg are in the Soldiers Rest section at Cedar Hill Cemetery in the city of Vicksburg. That includes Missouri General Martin Green, who was killed by a Union sharpshooter on June 27, a week before the surrender.

The Cedar Hill Cemetery also contains the remains of “Old Douglas,” a Confederate camel.  He was assigned to a Mississippi unit at the time of his death.  He originally was part of a War department experiment with using camels as beasts of burden in the Southwest in the 1850s, replacing mules that couldn’t go without water for long periods of time. He belonged for a time to Missouri’s own Confederate General Sterling Price who used him in the Iuka Campaign and the Battle of Corinth in 1862.  He was transferred to the Mississippi regiment soon after.  A Union sharpshooter killed him at Vicksburg.

douglas tombstone

There’s some doubt about how much of Douglas is there.  Conditions inside the Rebel lines in the latter part of the siege were pretty bad. Some reports say Douglas provided some much-needed meat for the troops.

The reason for the separate cemetery burials for Union and Confederate troops explains why Missouri has a Confederate Cemetery at Higginsville.   Congress passed a law in 1862 establishing national cemeteries for soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.”  That excluded casualties from the rebelling states.  As years went by, Congress modified the law so that it would cover former Confederates who later honorably served in the United States military.  The National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri is said to be the only such cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried side by side.

Arlington National Cemetery, which was installed on the front lawn of Robert E. Lee’s mansion, has a special section for Confederate soldiers. They’re clustered around the Confederate Memorial was dedicated in 1914.  Before the memorial was established, several Confederate dead were buried along with Union soldiers but for many years, decoration of their graves on Decoration Day, or as we now call it, Memorial day, was forbidden.

President McKinley changed the policy in 1898 when he announced that decorating Confederate graves represented “a tribute to American valor,” starting the process that led to the memorial dedication in 1914.

The Missouri Memorial at Vicksburg is almost a century old and shows the signs of its age with some cracked and crumbling stone and damaged to its bronze panels. The legislature has appropriated $375,000 dollars for those repairs and Governor Nixon has signed the bill.