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Proposal to remove Hillsborough courthouse Confederate statue sets off fierce backlash

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Two years ago, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to remove the Third National Flag of the Confederacy from downtown Tampa’s County Center. The vote came in the immediate aftermath of the racially motivated shooting of nine African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina.

Also removed from the lobby were flags of the other countries that once occupied Florida — Spain, France, and Great Britain — which were sent to the Tampa History Museum.

Although supporters of the Confederacy protested, the board voted 5-2 to approve the proposal from Commissioner Les Miller, the only black BOCC member.

Flash forward to Wednesday when Miller floated an idea in the media to remove the Confederate Veterans War Memorial outside of the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

This time, the plan provoked much stronger opposition.

Miller did not put a measure on the agenda saying that he’s doing due diligence to make sure that there will be a home for the statue after he calls for its removal. He’s hoping the Tampa History Museum will take it. He has a meeting with officials there Thursday.

But opponents of the idea weren’t waiting for the measure to be placed on the agenda, showing up Wednesday to denounce the idea.

“We see this as the ultimate discrimination of the Southern people,” said Riverview resident Donny McCurry. “By doing this, you become no better than the evil who destroys other countries. Don’t let yourself go down in history as evil humans.”

“Americans build monuments, we don’t remove them,” said St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland. He believes the movement to remove such Confederate artifacts is spread by “radical leftists.”

“There is an assumption out here in the public, that anything Confederate is racist, and represents Nazism, genocide, ignorance, treason,” said lifelong Hillsborough resident Phil Walter. “It’s a lie.”

David McCallister with Save Southern Heritage unveiled a robocall survey showing 77 percent of those asked opposed removing the statue; only 23 percent support the idea. The poll was conducted for the group last Friday by Gravis Marketing, contacting 502 individuals in Hillsborough County (The pollster did not return our request for comment).

Miller said he’s been around politics long enough to believe that they way questions are posed on a survey can elicit responses “any way you want.” He wasn’t buying it one bit.

McCallister also joined other critics in calling on the board to not only oppose removing the statue but support a countywide “monument protection” ordinance.

Last month, the City of New Orleans moved a statue of General Robert E. Lee. It was the last of four Confederate-era monuments that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu pledged to remove amid a swirl of controversy.

In May, the Orlando City Council supported a proposal from Mayor Buddy Dyer, which plans to repair a “Johnny Reb” Confederate soldier statue, which had stood at Lake Eola Park for 100 years, and move it to nearby Greenwood Cemetery.

After the meeting, Save Southern Heritage issued a press release alleging that Miller “pulled” the item “after he didn’t find public support of the plan.”

But in fact if all goes well with the Tampa History Museum on Thursday, Miller will place the item of removing the statue on the BOCC’s agenda at the next meeting.

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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