© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Hillsborough Commissioners Decide Not To Move Civil War Monument

Bucking a growing trend elsewhere in the south, Hillsborough County officials decided Wednesday not to move a Confederate memorial from in front of a courthouse administrative building in downtown Tampa.

Instead, a mural will be put behind it to display, in the words of one county leader, "the love and diversity" in the community.

The Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday not to remove a statue that was erected in Tampa in 1911. Called 'Memoria In Aeterna,' it sits outside of a courthouse administrative building and depicts two Civil War soldiers next to an obelisk.

"It's time to take that monument down. It represents divisiveness, it represents an era of bondage of African-American people," said commissioner Les Miller, who first proposed the removal.

That stood in sharp contrast to commissioner Stacy White, who offered a counter meaure that not only would keep the statue where it was, but have the commissioners draft a new ordinance that would keep any war memorials from being removed in the future.

"Some will say that if it's a piece of history, then move it to a museum," White said. "But not all of our history should be relegated to a museum. It tempers the community to have living, breathing history."

After listening to more than two hours of impassioned public comment, another commissioner said a compromise was needed.

"If we don't look for a compromise or consensus, there's going to be hatred and anger that could last for decades," said commissioner Victor Crist. "If we want to heal a community, if we want to bring people together, we need to take this, regardless of how it's viewed and wrap our love around it."

Crist's proposal, which was also approved by a 4-3 vote, is to add a mural celebrating America's diversity on a wall surrounding the monument.

White and Crist were joined by fellow Republicans Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman in voting to keep the memorial. Republican Al Higginbotham and the commission's two Democrats, Miller and Pat Kemp, voted to remove it.

Commissioners did vote unanimously to approve a proposal directing at least $250,000 to setting up a curriculum teaching what Murman called "history and respect" of others in Hillsborough County schools.

Commission chambers were packed, with several people holding signs that said, "Americans build monuments we don't remove them!"

Emotions were already running high as debate got underway. A woman with an American flag slung over her body like a sash spoke during public comment and played a music video showing various monuments around the country.

White, who serves as commission chair, implored people in the audience to be polite.

"This is obviously a contentious issue," said White. "I'm going to have zero tolerance for outbursts. Let's have civil discourse today. That's something that's lacking across this entire country."

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

"An American veteran is a veteran. They deserve to be respected," said county resident Donny McCurry.

The monument sits in front of a county building that contains administrative offices and traffic court. Facing north, the statue depicts a proud and young Confederate soldier, while facing south, a battered and weary soldier in tattered clothing plods along.

Miller, who is an Air Force veteran, has been compared to the Islamic State and the Taliban for wanting to remove the statue.

One speaker said the desire to move the monuments is a "crazed obsession by radical leftists."

Others suggested that racism was tied to the monument from the beginning.

When the memorial was erected and dedicated in downtown Tampa in 1911, state attorney Herbert S. Phillips, said: "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."

Several speakers cited the passage — which was in a local paper over the weekend — as evidence the statue's racist roots.

Supporters of removing the mural said they were deeply disappointed in the idea of a mural and say it's an indication that white supremacy still reigns.

"The plan is to put a monument behind a monument, showing that hate is still up front," said resident Jae Passmore. "As a combat veteran who served twice overseas, this isn't about being a veteran's monument, a war monument. This was a monument put there to reinvigorate the citizens of Tampa in that time period and let them know that white people were still in charge."

She added that when she walks by and sees the monument, "It tells me that black lives don't matter in Tampa, in this county and this state."

Charles Fred Hearns, who lived in Hillsborough County for sixty years, pointed to Tampa hosting the Super Bowl in 2021 as a good reason to move the statue now.

"We don't want to look like a Southern hick town, with that monument still in front of the courthouse that's public property," Hearns said. "We do have a Tampa Bay history center, that might be a more appropriate place for it."

City workers in Orlando started moving a Confederate statue called "Johnny Reb" from a park in the heart of downtown to a nearby cemetery on Tuesday. That came after renewed public outcry that it's a symbol of racism and white supremacy.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.