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Issue of Confederate statue in Hillsborough just revving up

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Shortly after the Hillsborough County Commission concluded its board meeting this week without taking any action regarding the removal of a Confederate statute in front of the county’s courthouse, the group Save Southern Heritage Florida issued a press release boasting that this was due to its public pressure that the measure be dropped.

“After press reports of this plans surfaced, SSH members and supporters were notified and the intense push back pre-empted his plans,” read a statement issued out by David McCallister, a spokesman for the group.

However, the item was not put on Wednesday’s agenda, meaning that the board was never scheduled to formally discuss the proposal.

“I don’t know why Mr. McCallister had all those people show up today,” Commissioner Les Miller said after the meeting, where more than a dozen people opposing the removal of the statue showed with signs, with several of them vehemently speaking out in opposition.

The item was not placed on Wednesday’s agenda, Miller says, because he’s still in the process of lining up a home for the Confederate Soldier’s Monument in Tampa, which was donated by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911.

The county has an ordinance that dictates that anything it gives away must go to a nonprofit group. Miller says he hopes that will mean the Tampa History Museum and he intends to speak to officials with the facility on Thursday to see if they can house the statue.

“They keep saying it’s a part of history. If it’s part of history, put it in a museum in a history museum where people can go,” Miller says.

At the meeting, McCalister presented a Gravis Marketing Poll showing that 77 percent voters in Hillsborough County oppose removing the statue.

However, the man who helped prepare the poll for Gravis, Doug Kaplan, says that it is by no means a scientific survey.

“It’s not a weighted poll,” Kaplan said Wednesday night. “It’s not based on demographics or has a margin of error or anything like that.”

In addition to asking whether the removal of the Confederate war memorial was appropriate or not, the survey also asked if the public would be in favor “of spending $100,000 of your tax money on the removal of the Confederate War Memorial in Downtown Tampa?” (84 percent said they opposed that).

And it asked if they would support changing the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School, but the setup to that question stated that “the cost has been up to $450,000 in some communities to remove and change a school name.” (89 percent said they opposed).

Kaplan admits that those last two could be interpreted as being written in a fashion designed to get a certain response, but he stood by the results of the first question, which he said was extremely surprising.

“I don’t think it’s biased,” adds Doug Guetzloe with Save Southern Heritage Florida. He says that the $100,000 cost to move the statue might be a lowball figure.

Another extremely surprising part of the poll was that it shows that 41 percent of blacks opposed moving the statue.

“It’s hard for me to believe that 40 percent of African Americans say leave the monument there,” said Miller.

The citizens who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting in opposition to moving the statue spoke passionately about why the board should not remove the statue.

Miller says that there are people “just as passionate in taking it down,” and one particular group, Showing Up for Racial Justice, has placed an online petition to remove all Confederate monuments in Hillsborough County.

If and when he does propose a measure calling on the board to remove the statue, it’s anyone’s guess how the majority GOP controlled board will decide.

Two years ago, a measure to remove a Confederate flag from the county center was passed unanimously, but only after Commissioner Stacy White realized he was outgunned and ultimately voted with the majority.

That vote came in the immediate aftermath of Dylann Roof’s confession to murdering nine black worshippers at the historically black Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the day after the shootings, a Facebook picture of him on top of his car bearing a license plate with different versions of the Confederate flag emerged, compelling then-Governor Nikki Haley to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House. Other governments like Hillsborough County followed suit with their Confederate artifacts.

In this case, there have recently been a series of governments in the South who announced that they are removing Confederate landmarks in recent months, with New Orleans leading the way.

White tells WFLA-News Channel 8 that he will oppose Miller’s proposal.

McCalister says he wants to know why Miller “has so much hatred” when it comes to the Confederacy monuments.

“Does he want to divide the community?” he asked. “And why does he want to adopt the tactics of the Taliban and ISIS in destroying historical monuments?”

Miller responds that as a black student studying constitutional law, he would often walk into the county courthouse to use the law library and see the monument, “knowing what it stood for.”

“Knowing that people walked into that building for equal justice, but here’s a monument that stands over there that people erected because they fought a war that they wanted to keep people of my color in bondage because they didn’t even recognize us as human beings. I determined at that point, that one day, I’m going to help take that thing down.”

 

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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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