Activists and interested citizens gathered in front of the Confederate monument in downtown Tampa on Tuesday, seeking to push the Hillsborough County Commission to reverse its 4-3 vote last week to keep the statue where it’s been standing for more than 100 years.
Calling themselves the Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition, they included members of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, CAIR Florida, Fight For 15, clergy, pastors and concerned citizens.
“This is a spiritual warfare,” said the Reverend James T. Golden, a pastor from Manatee County who ran unsuccessfully for the Florida House last fall. “To the four (commissioners) who voted against it, be warned. One of the three that lost is going to put it on the agenda, and the issue is, which of the four of you will have the moral fortitude, the courage, that will have the ability to say, let the dead past bury the dead past.”
Democrats and others have vowed to seek political retribution against the four members of the BOCC who voted to support keep the monument in place. Those four – Stacy White, Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman – will all appear on the 2018 ballot. Each is considered the front-runner in their races, more than 16 months away from the election.
Democrat Pat Kemp joined Republican Al Higginbotham and fellow Democrat Les Miller in voting to remove the monument last week. She said on Tuesday she’s confident there can be another vote on the issue with a different result.
“I’ve said to everyone, this can come back, this can be reconsidered, any commissioner can bring this forward in the future,” she told the crowd that gathered on the sizzling sidewalk in front of the courthouse annex on North Jefferson Street. “It really will depend on the will of the community to go forward and reconsider removing this Confederate monument from the courthouse.”
At the public hearing which lasted more than three hours, there was emotional testimony given by black speakers who called the monument offensive and an affront to the sensibilities of the community in 2017. There was similar rhetoric employed during Tuesday’s rally.
“We appreciate those who want to protect their history, but it’s just not the place here,” said Hillsborough NAACP Chair Bennie Smalls. “If you’re going to come here to look for justice, how can you look for justice and you got injustice placed in front of you when you’re going into the courthouse?”
“Prejudice and racism still exist,” said Chloe Coney, a 66-year-old Tampa resident who recalls the racism she encountered when being one of the first black students to attend Hillsborough High School in Seminole Heights 50 years ago.
“I went to the pep rally, and the teachers and the children with the Confederate flag , running up and down the auditorium, and everybody excited standing up, excited, singing, ‘Dixie’ and ‘(I Wish I Was in ) the land of Cotton,'” she recounted. “Well, as a 16 year old child, I cried, because it was my ancestors in that cotton field that was beaten, raped (and) lynched. So it left a scar on me.”
Coney suggested that the board could move the monument to Oaklawn Cemetery, the 167-year-old Tampa cemetery described as the final resting place for “white and slave, rich and poor.”
Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera said he wasn’t at the rally to divide the community, but instead wanted to unity it. Unlike the way others have described it, he said the issue wasn’t a partisan one.
“I’ve talked to many Democrasts and Republicans, independents, liberals and conservatives, who say that – to quote Indiana Jones – it belongs in a museum, it doesn’t belong here,” said Viera, a Cuban-American who was elected last December. “It belongs somewhere else, because that monument does not reflect our best values.”
Two years ago, Hillsborough Commissioners unanimously approved a proposal brought forward by Miller to move the Third National Flag of the Confederacy to the Tampa Bay History Center, and it was Miller’s first choice to house the Confederate monument earlier this month.
However, History Center officials there told him this time around that they wanted no part of it, blaming a lack of space for their immediate rejection.
Standing a short distance away from the reporters covering the press conference was David McAllister and other supporters from the Save Southern Heritage movement, the group that argued before the BOCC not to remove the monument.
“I would like to see a rally for school graduation rates, or teach life skills on how to become employed in gainful citizenry,” said “Captain” Phil Walters, standing next to McAllister. “Tearing down history like this and hiding it from people because they might be offended – how are you going to do with real life situations when everything is hidden from you?”
Tuesday’s event in front of the courthouse annex came a day after the city of St. Louis announced that it has reached an agreement to dismantle a 32-foot granite and bronze Confederate monument by the end of the week that has stood in a local park for more 103 years. It was just the latest in a series of decisions made by local governments in recent months across the country to decide to move Confederate artifacts.
However, there has been a number of local governments who have voted similar ordinances to Hillsborough County’s last week, enshrining in law that such monuments can’t be moved in the future. Not only have some local communities voted that way, but so did the state of Alabama earlier this year.