Standing among the small group gathered at a podium outside a Hillsborough County courthouse annex Tuesday were people who remember a time when there were separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites in Tampa. Schools were segregated. Interracial couples faced death threats if they went out in public.
They were there to urge the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners to reconsider the decision they made last week by a 4-3 margin that would keep the Confederate monument under which they stood in place.
The monument depicts two Confederate soldiers: one headed for battle and the other in a tattered uniform, bound for home.
Commissioner Les Miller, the only African-American member of the board, had proposed its removal since to many it appears to honor the Confederacy's cause in the Civil War, which many people associate with the dark legacies of slavery and subsequently Jim Crow.
“We appreciate those who want to protect their history, but it's just not the place here. If you're going to come and look for justice, how can you look for justice and you've got injustice placed in front of you when you go into the courthouse?" said Bennie Small, head of the local chapter of the NAACP. “Times have changed in this country. We have got to make some progress.”
Rev. Russell Meyer said since the monument was built 50 years after the start of the Civil War, in 1911, it is a vestige of a time when African-Americans faced segregation, lack of rights and violence.
“This monument does not originate from the Civil War. It originates from the time of the black codes," he said. "And it was intentionally put up here so that anyone who walked through the courthouse doors of Hillsborough County would know that injustice and inequality is the rule of the day in this county. And if that's still the case, then the four commissioners who voted to leave it here, they need to come out and say that.”
Meanwhile, institutional racism is still pervasive in many aspects of everyday life for African Americans, he continued.
“When we look around this county and this city, what we see is the persistence of racism that every one of our institutions: employment, schools, housing, healthcare, the courthouse, the county jail," Meyer said. "The persistence of clear racial disparity, easily mapped by any measure of statistical information you can find online persists to this day in this county. And this statue represents the history and the transmission of that disparity. The removal of this monument to a more befitting place is the first step in saying we're going to be intentional about righting the historical wrong that has been the long history of Tampa.”
For many African-Americans who have to walk past the statue in order to file paperwork with the county or even to go to work, it serves as a reminder of racism and the brutality it wrought in the past, say advocates for its removal.
“It has been here long enough," said Rev. James Golden Esq. "Everybody that needs a passport, everybody that wants to get married, everybody that... records their deeds has to walk through these doors and they have to walk past this statue. That may have been good when it was put up, but this ain't your daddy's county. This ain't your granddaddy's town anymore. As it has been pointed out, there's too much progress that has been made. There's been too many strides that have been taken to bring us here to this point. And we will not go away and we will not stop. To the four of you, one of you must change not just your mind, but you've got to change your heart.”
It's unclear when the county would take up the issue again, but those gathered repeatedly vowed that they aren't going anywhere until the statue is removed and installed somewhere else.