Well, that Confederate monument is going to stay put in downtown Tampa (for now)

But apparently they're going to chisel a monument to "diversity" behind it, so there's that.

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click to enlarge Well, that Confederate monument is going to stay put in downtown Tampa (for now)
Wikimedia Commons/AGS Media

Is it a symbol of enslavement, torture and white supremacy? Possibly.

Is it a monument history to the men who met the call of duty? Possibly.

Prior to our current godawful epoch, one might have been inclined to say the answer is probably somewhere in between. Alas, that supposition no longer in vogue. Because what the dozens of people who spoke to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners see in the monument that stands outside a courthouse annex in downtown Tampa depends on their subjective, rock-solid core beliefs (how 2017 of everybody).

Same, too, for the commissioners themselves — save for Al Higginbotham, a Republican who sided with Democrats on the notion that the monument is emblematic of slavery, Jim Crow and institutionalized racism and ought to go the way of Confederacy itself.

“It represents a hurt," he said. "It brings up a dark side of our history. I'll never know what it's like to be treated differently because of the color of my skin.”

Moments later, the four other Republicans at the dais voted in favor of not only keeping the thing exactly where it is, but protecting it and every other war monument, questionably Confederate or not, in the county. Commissioner Victor Crist tacked on a measure that would enlist an artist to chisel a diverse array of faces into the wall behind it, which is supposed to "wrap the monument in love" or something. There was also some measure to set aside money for anti-racism education. Or something.

The monument-protecting measure effectively torpedoed Commissioner Les Miller's proposal to follow New Orleans' and Orlando's lead and take the thing down and give it to the Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that put the thing up in 1911 and, he said, would gladly take it back and install it somewhere else.

Miller, who has ancestors who were enslaved and himself lived through segregation in the South, recalled walking past the monument as a student of Constitutional law.

"I remember looking at that monument and realizing what it was all about. It wasn't about fighting for land. It was about remembering slavery," he said.

But Commissioner Stacy White apparently didn't see the racial implications, and instead said the statue is a monument to the soldiers who fought, even if the state attorney who was the keynote speaker at the thing's dedication 106 years ago, railed against racial equality and alluded to an "ignorant and inferior race."

That debate followed hours of public testimony, most of which were passionate pleas to just take the damned thing off the public property on which it sits, and perhaps put it up at the Tampa Bay History Center.

“Racism is alive and well," said Bishop Michelle B. Patty, an outspoken Tampa civil rights activist. "Even as we sit in these chambers it is felt around the world. I do not need to be intimidated or reminded of that every time I go to the courthouse and do business.”

There's a reason the monument went up when it did, one commenter pointed out.

“What happened in 1911 is that several communities, primarily throughout the South, decided that they want to commemorate the anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. You may know that Florida was the third state to secede from the Union, following South Carolina and Mississippi. And so this was a great occasion for those Confederates and those who had relatives who fought on the side of the South or what have you. But you do know that those people renounced their American citizenship," said Charles Hearns, a St. Petersburg resident who grew up black in Tampa during segregation.

“You know that in few years we have another Super Bowl coming to Tampa. We don't want to look like a Southern hick town with that monument in front of that courthouse,” Hearns added.

After all, given what the South was fighting for — the right for states to own other human beings or, ya know, "states' rights" — shouldn't we be looking at how other countries who overcame tyranny on a similar scale handle their deposed despots?

“I don't go around waving the flag of Portuguese Angola or Apartheid South Africa,” said Mike Rodriguez, whose parents are Portuguese. “Wrong is wrong.”

Several people spoke in favor of keeping the statue where it is, citing "heritage" or and "history."

“This is a great public work of art,” said Travis Warren. "It shouldn't be moved aside, swept aside to some history center that will see it limited."

It was also quite apparent that many in favor the statue staying put didn't see slavery in it, but — given the presence of the soldiers — a cry for peace and unity.

“It was erected with the purpose of binding up the wounds of war. It's a monument for peace," said speaker Kevin Wright.

In the end, of course, Wright and those who agree with him won.

But activists and civil rights advocates warned that the debate wasn't over; that progress is inevitable and a statue causing such pain to so many people can't possible stand in a public space forever.

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