Sym­bol of hate, or nod to his­tory?

Sug­ges­tions that Tampa re­move a Confederat­e mon­u­ment stir deep pas­sions on both sides.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY STEVE CONTORNO Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — In the streets along Court House Square they sang Dixie and cheered as the veil was fi­nally re­moved from the white mar­ble obelisk. Necks craned from bal­conies along Franklin Street as peo­ple strained to catch a glimpse.

It was Feb. 8, 1911, and an es­ti­mated 5,000 peo­ple had flooded down­town Tampa, still a small port city, for the ded­i­ca­tion of a Confederat­e mon­u­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to news ac­counts from the day, var­i­ous dig­ni­taries paid trib­ute to the Confederat­e sol­diers who had marched to de­fend the Old South then re­turned to build the New South from its ashes. They praised the gen­er­als who led them and the women who sup­ported the cause from home.

But there were other sen­ti­ments ex­pressed that day.

In re­marks at the mon­u­ment’s ded­i­ca­tion — a mon­u­ment that its mod­ern sup­port­ers in­sist doesn’t sym­bol­ize the sup­pres­sion of black Amer­i­cans — the key­note speaker, state at­tor­ney Her­bert S. Phillips, had this to say:

The eter­nal con­flict of Confederat­e sym­bols is that one man’s nod to her­itage is another man’s re­minder of op­pres­sion.

That con­flict has come to Hills­bor­ough County. Com­mis­sioner Les Miller has called for the re­moval of the 106-year-old Confederat­e mon­u­ment that now stands out­side the old county court­house in down­town Tampa, an ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing that holds traf­fic court and con­ducts mar­riages.

Miller, a de­scen­dant of slaves, came of age when schools were still seg­re­gated in Tampa. As a Univer­sity of South Florida stu­dent, he re­mem­bers a help­less­ness come over him as he passed the statue on the way to the down­town law li­brary.

“When I be­came a county com­mis­sioner one of the things I said to my­self was, ‘I’m go­ing to one day get that re­moved,’ ” Miller said. “The tim­ing had to be right.”

The mo­ment for Miller ar­rived last month. Four Confederat­e memo­ri­als had just come down in New Or­leans in parts of the city not far from where thou­sands of men and women were bought and

“The South stands ready to wel­come all good cit­i­zens who seek to make their homes within her bor­ders. But the South de­tests and de­spises all, it mat­ters not from whence they came, who, in any man­ner, en­cour­ages so­cial equal­ity with an ig­no­rant and in­fe­rior race.”

sold into bondage. New Or­leans Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu’s speech ex­plain­ing why went vi­ral and be­came a na­tional ad­dress on race re­la­tions.

But op­po­si­tion to Miller’s pro­posal was swift.

A mailer cir­cu­lated com­par­ing Miller, a vet­eran of the U.S. Air Force, to the Is­lamic State. Dozens of men and women filled the seats of a re­cent County Com­mis­sion meet­ing hold­ing signs say­ing, “Amer­i­cans build mon­u­ments/We don’t re­move them.”

“If this mon­u­ment is re­moved, I, as a cit­i­zen of this county, will or­ga­nize other like-minded cit­i­zens to stand in its place as well as over of­fices of this coun­cil,” warned one of those res­i­dents, Donny McCurry of Riverview.

A de­bate on the fu­ture of the mon­u­ment is ex­pected at Wed­nes­day’s com­mis­sion meet­ing. Com­mis­sioner Stacy White said he plans to pro­pose a blan­ket ban on the re­moval of any of Hills­bor­ough’s war memo­ri­als.

“This is a part of his­tory,” White said.

•••

“Hand­some,” the Tampa Morn­ing Tri­bune re­marked about the mon­u­ment the day af­ter its un­veil­ing. And unique com­pared to oth­ers around Florida.

To the north faces a Confederat­e sol­dier; up­right, armed, right foot for­ward head­ing to­ward bat­tle. To the south, the sol­dier walks home-bound; hum­bled, his clothes tat­tered and gun fall­ing to his side. A tower that points to the heav­ens stands be­tween the two fig­ures.

Its in­stall­ment, the Tri­bune wrote, was “made pos­si­ble through the zeal­ous ef­forts of the lo­cal chap­ter of the Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy.”

“Zeal­ous’’ may ac­tu­ally be an un­der­state­ment.

In the years af­ter the Civil War, the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy and other South­ern groups un­der­took ex­ten­sive ef­forts to in­flu­ence the post-war nar­ra­tive and re­make in de­feat the im­age of the South.

Com­mit­tees re­viewed school text­books to en­sure def­er­ence to the South­ern point-ofview, ac­cord­ing to min­utes from Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy con­ven­tions in the early 1900s. Cam­paigns per­suaded gov­ern­ments to re­fer to the Civil War as the “War Be­tween the States” and down­play slav­ery’s role in the South’s se­ces­sion.

Known as the “Lost Cause” nar­ra­tive, it sought to project a pic­turesque an­te­bel­lum South, said Wil­liam Lees, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Florida Pub­lic Ar­chae­ol­ogy Net­work at the Univer­sity of West Florida in Pen­sacola.

“That nar­ra­tive is embed­ded in in­sid­i­ous ways through­out the South,” said Lees, who cat­a­logued Florida’s Civil War memo­ri­als for his book, Re­call­ing Deeds Im­mor­tal: Florida Mon­u­ments to the Civil War. “It may have started for in­no­cent rea­sons but it be­came a very ef­fec­tive cam­paign and it in­cluded mon­u­ments.”

The United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy or­ga­nized dozens of em­pa­thetic mon­u­ments through­out the South, in­clud­ing Florida, from the late 1880s through World War I. They can be found in pub­lic spa­ces in Braden­ton, Brooksvill­e and Lake­land.

The lo­cal chap­ter of the United Daugh­ters raised $3,000 in 1910 to build the mon­u­ment in Tampa. Hills­bor­ough County do­nated the land on Franklin and Lafayette streets.

Its un­veil­ing, mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the South’s se­ces­sion from the Union, was such an event that kids were given the day off school. It was Tampa’s first mon­u­ment.

Ded­i­ca­tion speeches praised the re­united coun­try. But the pre­vail­ing lost cause nar­ra­tive re­ver­ber­ated too, said Rod­ney KitePow­ell, cu­ra­tor at the Tampa Bay His­tory Cen­ter, “re­cast­ing not just the cause of the war, but the end of the war, mak­ing it where there is no loser.”

Tampa Mayor D.B. McKay, for ex­am­ple, said the statue “will stand for­ever as a tes­ti­mo­nial of our undy­ing love for the cause that we of the South be­lieve was right, and of our pride in the splen­did achieve­ments of the hosts who through those ter­ri­ble years made records on land and on sea un­par­al­leled in the his­tory of the world.”

•••

Over the past two decades, Hills­bor­ough has grad­u­ally dis­tanced it­self from Confederat­e sym­bols.

In 1997, county com­mis­sion­ers re­moved the Confederat­e flag from the Hills­bor­ough County seal. In a com­pro­mise, they voted to hang a ver­sion of the flag in the county cen­ter.

Then com­mis­sion­ers voted in 2015 to re­move that flag. Mean­while, the county stopped honor­ing South­ern Her­itage Month, a de­ci­sion in 2007 that prompted one an­gry cit­i­zen to plant a mas­sive Confederat­e bat­tle flag near In­ter­states 4 and 275.

More re­cently, the Hills­bor­ough County School Board started a re­view of how to change the name of Robert E. Lee El­e­men­tary School in east Tampa.

But the Confederat­e mon­u­ment down­town had avoided sim­i­lar scru­tiny. Lo­cal his­to­ri­ans and long­time black lead­ers could not re­mem­ber de­bates about it. In fact, the same com­mis­sion­ers who re­moved the flag from the county seal unan­i­mously ap­proved a $4,000 restora­tion of the mon­u­ment.

Tom Scott, who served on the County Com­mis­sion and Tampa City Coun­cil, of­ten as the only black mem­ber, said the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is dif­fer­ent now. But he added that re­mov­ing the mon­u­ment won’t solve the racial dis­par­ity in the county.

“It’s un­der­stand­able to not want those kinds of sym­bols that por­tray racism,” Scott said. “But af­ter re­mov­ing the statue, we still have a prob­lem if we’re not ad­dress­ing the sys­temic is­sues.”

Miller said the de­bate is over­due.

“That mon­u­ment and those flags stood for peo­ple that wanted to keep a seg­ment of the coun­try in bondage,” Miller said. “You go into a court­house for jus­tice, and here stands a mon­u­ment erected to those who didn’t even look at you as a hu­man be­ing.”

Ad­vo­cates of South­ern her­itage said re­mov­ing these sym­bols is a dis­ser­vice to the dozens of lo­cal men who fought in the Civil War.

“If they be­lieve any sym­bol of slav­ery should be elim­i­nated be­cause it’s of­fen­sive there’s a long list of things that need to go,” said Lunelle McCalliste­r, chair of mon­u­ments for the Florida di­vi­sion of the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy. “Are we go­ing to re­name McKay Bay? When does it end?”

•••

In 1911, Tampa was open­ing it­self to the north — both to its vis­i­tors and its com­merce — and tout­ing its place in the na­tion’s in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion. The city cel­e­brated the rolling of its one bil­lionth cigar, ac­cord­ing to a Tri­bune report, and the news­pa­per was ha­bit­u­ally filled with pro­nounce­ments of new busi­ness in the port.

But Tampa held closely to Florida’s roots as the third South­ern state to se­cede.

The city ob­served Lee’s birth­day, and school­child­ren named trees af­ter him. Much of the county’s black pop­u­la­tion lived in the Scrub, an area founded by free slaves, or seg­re­gated com­mu­ni­ties with few ameni­ties and poor con­di­tions. The first hospi­tal to treat black res­i­dents had just opened three years ear­lier.

“That tells you a lot of what you need to know about the black con­di­tions in Tampa,” said Fred Hearns, a re­tired direc­tor of com­mu­nity af­fairs for Tampa who now pro­vides black his­tory tours.

Against this back­drop, Her­bert Phillips, the state’s at­tor­ney for the 6th Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit, de­liv­ered his key­note ad­dress to ded­i­cate the Confederat­e mon­u­ment.

“The south de­clares that a pres­i­dent who ap­points a ne­gro to an of­fice within her bor­ders en­gen­ders sec­tional bit­ter­ness,” he said, “en­cour­ages lynch­ings, in­jures the ne­gro, is an en­emy of good gov­ern­ment and a traitor to the An­glo-Saxon race.”

Asked if Phillips’ words changed his view of the mon­u­ment, County Com­mis­sioner White said he hadn’t heard them be­fore and would have to study it be­fore com­ment­ing. But he added: “I don’t think that those types of sen­ti­ments would en­tirely en­com­pass the ded­i­ca­tion of the mon­u­ment.”

David McCalliste­r, com­man­der of the lo­cal chap­ter of the Sons of the Con­fed­er­acy and hus­band to Lunelle, was more ef­fu­sive.

“(Abra­ham) Lin­coln had ex­actly the same thoughts,” he said. “What do they think about Lin­coln on the penny?”

•••

The mon­u­ment, like the south­fac­ing sol­dier, is tat­tered these days. There are cracks through­out the base and chips in the mar­ble men. The sol­diers have been miss­ing most of their guns for decades.

On his tour routes, Hearns of­ten drives by the statue.

He ex­plains for tourists the tower and the two sol­diers, what they sym­bol­ize, the en­grav­ings that mark the start and end of the Civil War, the carv­ing of the rebel flag that adorns the statue’s west side.

“They’re pretty silent when I give the his­tory of that statue,” he said. “Ev­ery time I go by a lit­tle chill goes through me.

“I know what it meant.”

CHRIS URSO | Times

The statue out­side the old Hills­bor­ough County Court­house was un­veiled to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the South’s se­ces­sion.

CHRIS URSO | Times

The mon­u­ment was moved to its cur­rent lo­ca­tion in 1952 fol­low­ing com­ple­tion of the court­house. It was orig­i­nally erected on the south­west corner of Franklin and Lafayette streets in 1911 by the Tampa chap­ter of the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy.

CHRIS URSO | Times

One side of the mon­u­ment shows a Confederat­e sol­dier ready to go to bat­tle. The other side shows him walk­ing home in tat­tered cloth­ing.

Burg­ert Broth­ers

The mon­u­ment is shown out­side the county court­house in 1921. Hills­bor­ough County do­nated land for the orig­i­nal site on Franklin and Lafayette streets.

The Tampa Morn­ing Tri­bune an­nounced the un­veil­ing on Feb. 8, 1911. Chil­dren were given the day off from school; some 5,000 peo­ple at­tended.

A page from the Tampa Morn­ing Tri­bune in 1911 cel­e­brated the mon­u­ment as “hand­some’’ the day af­ter it was un­veiled.

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