Officials in Tampa decide not to move Civil War monument

A Confederate statue is seen in a small park in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, June 21, 2017. The Hillsborough County Commission is scheduled to discuss the fate of the statue that was first erected in Tampa in 1911 in front of the courthouse. A commissioner has called for its removal. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Officials decided Wednesday not to move a Confederate memorial from in front of a Florida courthouse. Instead, a mural will be put behind it to display, in the words of one county leader, “the love and diversity” in the community.

The Hillsborough County Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday not to remove a statue that was erected in Tampa in 1911. Called ‘Memoria In Aeterna,’ it sits outside of a courthouse administrative building and depicts two Civil War soldiers next to an obelisk.

“It’s time to take that monument down. It represents divisiveness, it represents an era of bondage of African-American people,” said commissioner Les Miller, who first proposed the removal.

But after listening to more than two hours of impassioned public comment, another commissioner said a compromise was needed.

“If we don’t look for a compromise or consensus, there’s going to be hatred and anger that could last for decades,” said commissioner Victor Crist. “If we want to heal a community, if we want to bring people together, we need to take this, regardless of how it’s viewed and wrap our love around it.”

Commission chambers were packed, with several people holding signs that said, “Americans build monuments we don’t remove them!”

Emotions were already running high as debate got underway. A woman with an American flag slung over her body like a sash spoke during public comment and played a music video showing various monuments around the country.

Commission chair Stacy White implored people in the audience to be polite.

“This is obviously a contentious issue,” said White. “I’m going to have zero tolerance for outbursts. Let’s have civil discourse today. That’s something that’s lacking across this entire country.”

Advocates of Southern heritage say removing these symbols is a disservice to the men who fought in the Civil War.

“An American veteran is a veteran. They deserve to be respected,” said county resident Donny McCurry.

The monument sits in front of a county building that contains administrative offices and traffic court. Facing north, the statue depicts a proud and young Confederate soldier, while facing south, a battered and weary soldier in tattered clothing plods along.

Miller, who is an Air Force veteran, has been compared to the Islamic State and the Taliban for wanting to remove the statue.

One speaker said the desire to move the monuments is a “crazed obsession by radical leftists.”

Others suggested that racism was tied to the monument from the beginning.

When the memorial was erected and dedicated in downtown Tampa in 1911, state attorney Herbert S. Phillips, said: “The South stands ready to welcome all good citizens who seek to make their homes within her borders. But the South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any manner, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race.”

Several speakers cited the passage — which was in a local paper over the weekend — as evidence the statue’s racist roots.

Supporters of removing the statue said they were deeply disappointed in the idea of a mural and say it’s an indication that white supremacy still reigns.

“The plan is to put a monument behind a monument, showing that hate is still up front,” said resident Jae Passmore. “As a combat veteran who served twice overseas, this isn’t about being a veteran’s monument, a war monument. This was a monument put there to reinvigorate the citizens of Tampa in that time period and let them know that white people were still in charge.”

She added that when she walks by and sees the monument, “It tells me that black lives don’t matter in Tampa, in this county and this state.”

About 75 miles to the northeast, city workers in Orlando on Tuesday started moving a Confederate statue called “Johnny Reb” from a park in the heart of downtown to a nearby cemetery, following renewed public outcry that it’s a symbol of racism and white supremacy.