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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough Confederate monument controversy isn’t going away

in Statewide/The Bay and the 'Burg by

The four Hillsborough County commissioners who voted to keep a Confederate monument on public grounds may have thought/hoped the issue was behind them.

If so, they are mistaken.

That much was clear from Tuesday’s rally in downtown Tampa by a coalition of leaders, clergy and people who are just plain fed up with the divide the monument has created in the community.

That divide can only be closed when the monument is more to a more appropriate location.

Commissioner Pat Kemp, who voted to remove the monument featuring two Confederate soldiers, has said the issue almost certainly will be raised to the county’s governing body again — and it should be.

That will put even more pressure on commissioners Sandra Murman, Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Stacy White — who were depicted in a protest sign as the “Confederate 4” because of their votes to keep the monument where it is in the name of history.

This is a good time for everyone to take a deep breath and remember that while Tampa has made great strides in race relations, that often has come with great struggle.

Interestingly, protesters have never called for destroying the monument. They have asked that it be moved to a more fitting spot, like a museum or cemetery. They say having it on the county courthouse grounds — where people go for impartial justice — is a stinging reminder of the struggle blacks in Tampa have faced.

Many still remember the violent 1967 riots that were triggered when a black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer.

Henry Bohler, who died at age 82 in 2007, fought in World War II as a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen. But he also endured harassment after he filed a federal lawsuit in 1962 to open the city’s parks and recreation centers to blacks.

Police stopped Bohler five times one morning on his way to the courthouse. Clarence Fort remembers the community vitriol that came after he joined with other blacks demanding to be served at the segregated F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Tampa.

There are many, many other examples.

So, you want to argue the monument today represents history?

Segregated lunch counters were part of history. Denying blacks the right to use public parks was a part of history. Police harassment was a part of history. All of that used to be “just the way things are” until Tampa moved on, but always with a struggle.

That’s really the message from this latest protest.

The vote to keep the monument in place was basically the commissioners telling blacks to get over it. The backlash, including a stinging rebuke of the vote by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, was the community telling commissioners they made a mistake and they better fix it.

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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