The debate taking place across Florida and the U.S. over what to do with Confederate statues and memorials that sit on public property is nothing new.
“The debate over commemorating the Civil War is as old as the Civil War,” says Florida State University History Professor Kurt Piehler. Piehler is the author of Remembering War the American Way, a book that explores war memorials and cemeteries.
“As soon as the fighting stopped, they were debating commemorating the war,” Piehler adds. “These debates over memorializing the Civil War are nothing new.”
Piehler says in his research of war memorials, the basic rule applies: “Generally, the more controversial the war, the more monuments were built to it.”
By far, the Civil War was our nation’s most controversial war. But, Piehler says the Confederate war memorials constructed throughout the South were erected strictly to honor the men who fought and not the reason they fought–slavery.
Some consider the memorials to be part of our heritage, but others see them as symbols of hate.
Here in Florida, the debate is taking place at the state and local levels.
In Lee County, the discussion continues over what to do with a portrait and statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee–the county’s namesake. The portrait hangs inside the county commission chambers, while the statue sits outside the county courthouse.
St. Augustine city leaders are scheduled to meet on Monday to take up the issue of what to do with a Confederate memorial that sits on city property.
There are reportedly more than 30 Confederate monuments and memorials located on public property in Florida.
The state would be required to remove all Confederate monuments from state land under a bill filed Thursday by state Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.
“Who we once were cannot, and should not, continue to define who we are today as a state,” said Rep. Jones. “My Florida today stands as a shining example of the strength that our diversity brings, not a place still caught up in celebrating the purveyors of a racist ideology that kept our ancestors confined to bondage.”
Under Jones’ legislation, the Department of Management Services would be required to remove all monuments on public land by 2020. The monuments would be relocated to the Museum of Florida History.
“It is time that we assess this period in our history with the context it deserves and with the clear-eyed understanding that our ghosts are just that: spirits whose presence cannot continue to haunt us,” Jones added.
Ending Confederate Holidays
Another bill was filed this week that would end Confederate holidays that are currently recognized in Florida law.
The proposed legislation would remove the birthdays of Gen. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, as well as the Confederate Memorial Day from the list of legal holidays in Florida.
“When I think of who should be honored with legal holidays, the types of people who come to mind are not those that cost millions of lives in the defense of slavery,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs. “I’m positive that celebrating racism shouldn’t be on the calendar each year. It’s not erasing history to put it where it belongs; in a history book or a museum hall.”
Statue Put in Storage
One statue has already been removed and put into storage. It’s not a statue of a Confederate Civil War figure, but rather of a former Florida governor who expressed racist opinions in a speech given 110 years ago–Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, the man who Broward County is named after.
As reported by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a statue of Broward was removed from that county’s courthouse this week after questions were raised about the former governor’s views on race that he expressed in a speech he gave to the state Legislature in 1907.
“The white people have no time to make excuses for the shortcomings of the negro,” Broward told lawmakers in his address.
He called on the United States to create a separate country for blacks. He said it would be
a place where whites would not be allowed and from which blacks would not be able to return.
County officials said Thursday that the statue of Broward had been moved to a storage area until officials decide what to do with it. One possibility being discussed is displaying it at a museum.
Do Confederate Memorials Have a Place in Today’s Society?
Piehler says after his years of research into war monuments, he has yet to make up is mind on what should be done with Confederate memorials.
“The irony about these monuments is, now that they stir controversy, they do get people to talk about the Civil War,” Piehler says. “We often forget a lot of history. So, it’s striking to me how they provoke controversy. If they were to be moved into museums, would people be as interested in the Civil War.”
Piehler says this is just the latest chapter in the ongoing debate over Confederate war memorials and their place in society.
We know the discussion will continue in Florida through at least the upcoming legislative session.