Religious leaders from across the Tampa Bay area gathered in front of the now-infamous Confederate monument outside of the old Hillsborough Courthouse Monday evening to call on the Hillsborough County Commission to rethink its decision to let it stay put.
Commissioner Les Miller first proposed its removal last month, but four of the seven voted no. Miller once again put it on the commission's agenda for Wednesday.
It appears as though this time there may be enough commissioners to pass a measure calling for its removal. An unnamed private cemetery has said it is willing to take the statue, the Tampa Bay Times reported Tuesday.
In something of a preview of Wednesday's commission meeting, the first since the original decision was made, representatives from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, CAIR Florida, Congregation Beth Am of Tampa and the Florida Council of Churches reiterated their case the monument's removal in hope that one of the four Commissioners who voted in favor of the monument remaining will change his or her mind. The four Commissioners who supported the monument were Sandra Murman, Victor Crist, Stacy White and Ken Hagan.
Crist, who proposed a compromise involving installing art depicting diversity behind the monument, has since appeared to have a change of heart (though, as the Tampa Bay Times notes, he has said he won't be at Wednesday's meeting and would prefer it if the vote took place in August).
Speakers at Monday's debate acknowledged that the statue represents heritage for some, others see racism.
“For a moment, let's accept that it is about heritage, but let's also accept the blatantly clear truth that for some people this statue is about hate,” said Rabbi Jason Rosenberg of the Congregation Beth Am of Tampa. “Let's admit that there are people of color who walk past this statue every day on their way to seek justice, and they are reminded of the men who fought to keep them property. They remember the men who gave their lives to keep them slaves. Let's think about what it means to ask people to seek justice under the shadow of that memory. … The pain that is caused by a statue such as this, the pain that is caused by honoring those who dishonored our brothers and sisters is real pain. We ignore the offense as if it doesn't matter. As if the racism fought for by these people was not itself and isn't continuing to be a crime against our fellow beings.”
Rev. James T. Golden of the AME Church offered the opportunity for a compromise in which the County moved the monument to a city-owned graveyard, where it could still act as a tribute to Confederate veterans. But he would not tolerate leaving it in the middle of downtown next to a courthouse.
“Whether it was moral when it was erected, whether it was immoral when it was erected, today is a different day,” said Golden. “Today is a different time. The decision that we have to make for today is, should it remain where it is? Now where it goes I agree is something that should be in the hands of the people that we elect to represent us. I pray that they will take at least one of our many suggestions about where it should go and act on it. … But it is immoral that it should stand in front of the courthouse as evidence of justice. Injustice will not be tolerated silently anymore in this square and what we pray is that people will look to see the evidence of a search for a moral justice in our community that can transform communities and other places.”
There was also talk that this controversy and the County's willingness to hold on to a divisive relic despite extensive criticism may impact Tampa's growth into a major city, making it less desirable for relocating companies or major events — like how Charlotte lost the 2017 NBA All Star game after North Carolina reversed a law that granted the LGBT community discrimination protection.
These vigils will continue Tuesday, with local elected officials gathering this time to show support for the monuments removal. Among those confirmed to be attending include Miller and Pat Kemp, two of the three County Commissioners who voted for the monuments removal.