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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough commissioners vote to preserve history, but what kind?

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

I’m still waiting for anyone who can find real nobility in the slaughter we euphemistically call the Civil War.

War, by its nature, is anything but civil. More importantly, what was so noble about the bloody conflict that four Hillsborough County Commissioners felt it was worth preserving a monument to a time where racial strife tore the nation apart.

What are they honoring?

Southern history? The war was fought over the South’s insistence on holding on to slavery. Look it up. Just Google “articles of secession” and read. It’s right there.

The racial strife remains today, too. Just read the news.

In Miami, State Rep. Shervin Jones tweeted about being taunted with racial slurs at a meeting about changing the names of streets in Hollywood named for Confederate generals. He said he was called a “monkey” and the N-word — he spelled it out; I won’t.

The commissioners who voted Wednesday to keep the monument at the county courthouse in downtown Tampa couched their decisions in all the modern language of the day. It’s history, they said. They say the statue of two Confederate soldiers — one marching to war, one coming home — is a tribute to the men who fought and died in the nation’s bloodiest conflict.

The Confederate flag is part of history too, but that didn’t stop South Carolina from removing it from the state capitol after a racist maniac murdered nine black worshippers at a church service.

It would be hard to believe the upcoming election campaigns of the commissioners who voted to keep the status quo — Stacy White, Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Sandra Murman — didn’t have a lot to do with this. It’s fair to say there are a lot of voters who viewed this as another attack by the politically correct police, and three of the four face potentially tough election fights. White represents a safely conservative district.

Crist, as he often does, tried to have it both ways. Commissioners agreed with his pitch to have a have a large mural celebrating the county’s diversity painted behind the Confederate monument.

Well, you can do that and STILL move the existing monument to a more fitting location — a museum perhaps.

I’m still shaking my head over Murman’s suggestion that the county start an education program to address Hillsborough’s ongoing problem with racism.

Perhaps the four commissioners who voted to keep this punch-in-the-gut to the black community could be the first ones to sign up.

Votes like this have far-reaching ramifications. As Mitch Perry reported on SaintPetersBlog.com, the story became national news. Headlines of major publications and CNN reported “Tampa” officials made the decision.

Technically true, I guess.

But Mayor Bob Buckhorn will have none of that.

“There is no honor in treason and there is no valor in enslaving people because of their race,” he said. “That statue represents the worst of humanity, not the Tampa that we aspire to be. This decision doesn’t speak for our city and the people that I represent.”

This comes at a time when Gov. Rick Scott is on a mission to poach jobs from Connecticut. At a meeting there he told people they should “give up, capitulate” and move to Florida. I can’t imagine the Hillsborough vote will help his cause.

Next up: The Hillsborough School Board is expected to consider renaming Robert E. Lee elementary school. I can hear the arguments now against the change. It’s history. It’s tradition.

True.

Bad history. Bad tradition.

So was the monument, but I guess that doesn’t matter when one is looking for any reason not to do the right thing. We shouldn’t pretend the Civil War didn’t happen. We just shouldn’t keep fighting it today.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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