St. Pete promptly takes down small Confederate monument downtown

Hillsborough County, not so much.

click to enlarge During a Sunday night march against neo-Nazis and the KKK, activists place anti-hate signs and banners on the controversial Confederate monument in downtown Tampa. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
During a Sunday night march against neo-Nazis and the KKK, activists place anti-hate signs and banners on the controversial Confederate monument in downtown Tampa.

Once word of its existence got around, it didn't take long for St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman to pluck a small rectangular plaque marking a road named for Stonewall Jackson from a patch of grass on city property.

Prior to this week, it's unclear whether anyone really knew it was even there. As the Tampa Bay Times noted Monday, events that included the Women's March led thousands of progressive activists right past the thing. By Tuesday afternoon, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman reportedly had it taken down.

Unlike Hillsborough County or Charlottesville, St. Pete's monument wasn't towering in a public square to remind black passersby that the cards are stacked against them. Instead, it was a plaque on a small boulder that sat along St. Pete's otherwise illustrious downtown waterfront, apparently marking the terminus of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway. The Daughters of the Confederacy's Dixie Chapter installed it there in 1939, though Kriseman has said city officials have yet to find the plaque's rightful owner.

"The plaque recognizing a highway named after Stonewall Jackson has been removed and we will attempt to locate its owner," he said in an emailed statement.

The northern end of the "highway," near where U.S. 19 and U.S. 27 intersect east of Tallahassee, also reportedly has a commemorative sign, but in that part of the state you'd likely be hard-pressed to find officials willing to take it down. 

Kriseman said while the plaque is a subtle part of the landscape and not as blatantly pro-Confederacy as those that have been the source of extensive controversy, it was still important to him to remove it from public property.

"The plaque may not have elicited the same attention or emotions as the offensive statues and monuments that glorify the Confederacy, but that's no reason for it remain on public land and serve as a flashpoint in this national debate," Kriseman said.

Across the bay, members of the Hillsborough County Commission have been grappling with the question of whether or not to move a much larger Confederate monument that sits outside a county courthouse annex.

Civil rights leaders thought the matter was settled last month when four of the seven commissioners supported the monument's removal and relocation to a private site.

Commissioner Sandy Murman was the swing vote. In June, Murman had been in the camp that voted to keep the monument in place. She said she had a change of heart because a friend had said he would be willing to pay for its removal, so the cost to taxpayers would thus not be part of the equation. 

Murman and Commissioner Victor Crist, who appeared to have a similar change of heart on the issue (though he wasn't in town to vote on it), experienced vandalism in the wake of their reversals.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Stacy White is set to try to lay the groundwork that would undo the commission's July decision. He has also said he wants to set up a countywide ballot referendum to let voters decide whether to keep it. (Though critics on social media have said that it could be a way to excite the ultraconservative voters in the first-term commissioner's very Trumpian district with what is little more than a dog whistle.)

White's agenda item, which would set a September 7 public hearing "to consider enactment of an ordinance to be cited as the Hillsborough County War Veterans' Memorial Protection Ordinance pertaining to the protection of monuments and memorials erected to honor war veterans or the conflicts they fought in," is slated for a relatively early point in the commission's 9 a.m. meeting Wednesday, though it's likely public comment on the matter will be extensive.