“The past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner, “it’s not even past.”
This weekend armed and organized elements of right wing groups converged on Charlottesville, Va., in a shocking show of strength. Counter protesters who mustered to confront the “Unite The Right” rally were met with organized violence from the right wing groups.
As police stood by, dozens were injured in clashes. At the end, one 32-year-old woman protesting the march and two police officers trying to keep the peace were dead.
The stated reason for this shameful demonstration of white supremacy was the defense of a statue shaped to resemble Gen. Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The Charlottesville City Council voted last year to remove it, part of a broader effort to bring down Confederate monuments everywhere across the South, including Florida.
Excluding those on battlefields and cemeteries, there are 32 Confederate memorials on public land in Florida. If you count them, the number jumps closer to 50. Most were commissioned during the Jim Crow era and the majority were built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But five of them have been erected in just the past 15 years. (Miami has two, both in cemeteries.) Your tax dollars keep many in repair.
There is a 50-foot obelisk with a statue of Gen. Lee in Pensacola. His bust also graces a park in Fort Myers. Memorials to the Confederacy decorate the courthouses of Bartow, Hernando, Alachua, Jackson, Jefferson, Putnam, Gadsden, and Hillsborough Counties. The text of one in Jackson county eulogizes “the warriors tried and true who bore the flag of our peoples trust and fell in a cause – though lost – still just.”
An Antebellum sugar plantation that was owned by a rebel general and used by a Confederate statesmen to escape Union justice is a state park. It includes a memorial to rebel soldiers.
Those who defend the monuments argue that they are an integral part of history. Those who would take them down see them as pillars of white supremacy. James Alex Fields, the man accused of driving his Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter protesters, was willing to kill over a bronze statue of General Lee. The events of this weekend have revealed just how far people will go to uphold these symbols of oppression – and given new life to the movement to remove them across the country.
This is a roundup of the existing removal efforts across the state, as well as a guide to the monuments that remain in place. Statues in Gainesville and Orlando have come down this year.
- Every state gets to send two statues to Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Florida is currently represented by Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, who fled the country after the war so as not to be hung for treason, and the man who invented air conditioning. Though the general’s statue is slated to be removed, Florida state house representative Scott Plakon has reportedly snarled the process because he disagrees with the chosen replacement, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. The phone number to his district office is (407) 262-7423.
- James Muwakkil, the president of the Lee County NAACP, is spearheading efforts to replace a bust of Gen. Lee in Fort Myers, and also to take down a painting of the general in his Confederate uniform that hangs behind commissioners in the county government chambers. He is in the process of starting a petition. He asks that you “send a prayer. This is real. This is serious. We expect death threats.” Lee County is also named after the General.
- County officials in Tampa decided this June not to remove the statue of a confederate soldier that stands in front of the Hillsborough county courthouse, though they promised to put up a mural celebrating “diversity” behind it. The Florida Council of Churches has been active in organizing for the statue’s removal. Their executive director, Rev. Russell B. Meyer told News Channel 8 that “Lady Justice belongs here, not this,” during a protest. You can give the multi-faith organization a donation and some support here.
- Anthony Pusateri of Sarasota started a petition to replace the Confederate memorial on the lawn of the Bradenton courthouse with a statue of recently deceased and widely beloved Snooty the Manatee. You can sign it here.
- The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition is trying to get a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier atop a 60-foot granite pillar in Hemming Park removed. You can go to their Facebook page and ask them to put their petition online here.
- Efforts are underway to remove an obelisk that commemorates Confederate war dead in front of the Walton County courthouse. The Walton County Democratic party is also trying to get the courthouse to stop flying the Confederate flag. You can sign the petition here
Other monuments with no effort to take them down:
- The Confederate memorial that adorns the Florida Legislature in Leon County. A group of black Florida’s state senators tried to take it down back in 2015.
- The monuments – no statues, but plinths, plaques and obelisks – in Old Town, Trenton, and White Springs, Perry County, and St. Cloud that were all erected in the past 15 years.
- The monument to Confederate “Cow Cavalry,” Florida cattle herders that kept the Confederacy supplied with food, that was erected in Plant City in 2007 without permission from the county government.
- The 50-foot pillar topped with a statue of Gen. Lee in the center of Pensacola.
- The plinth on the grounds of the old Polk County courthouse that celebrates E Company of the 7th Florida Infantry
- The plaque to Gen. Lee that stands on the side of Highway 319 just north of Tallahassee
- The monument to “Uncle Bill Lundy,” a supposed Confederate soldier (he would have been 5 at the time of the war) erected in a Crestview park in 1958
- There’s a Confederate monument in Jacksonville park, which is itself called Confederate Park.
- There’s an archway dedicated to the Confederate war dead in Key West, a city which remained in Union hands throughout the war.
- There’s an obelisk in front of the Columbia County courthouse that memorializes the Confederate dead of the battle of Olustee, where a Union force on its way to take Tallahassee was repulsed.
- There’s a monument to Confederate soldiers in Four Freedoms Park in Madison. It was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
- There’s a well-preserved zinc monument to the Confederate soldiers of Jackson County,. It stands just north of the courthouse, in a traffic circle. Another monument to the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the battle of Marianna is a short distance away.
- A marble pillar to “our fallen heroes” stands in front of the courthouse in Jefferson County. It memorializes the rebel dead and has a Confederate flag etched into its base.
- A marble column with a stone rebel soldier stands in Ocala’s Veteran’s Park. It was rededicated in 2011.
- A bronze statue of a Confederate soldier stands on the grounds of the Putnam County courthouse. An inscription reads “Nor shall your glory be forgot while fame her record keeps.”
- A marble pillar outside the Gadsden county courthouse, just north of Tallahassee, also memorializes the Confederate soldiery.
- There’s a memorial to Confederate soldiers in St. Cloud’s Veteran’s Park. St. Cloud was a town founded by veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic.
- There’s a monument to Confederate veterans in Veterans Plaza, Trenton.
- The Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, a former sugar plantation that housed some 200 slaves, also houses a memorial to the rebel war dead. It’s also currently home to the Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group which is responsible for many of these public displays. State funds go to maintaining this park and to giving that organization a home.