Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

Tampa's Confederate memorial could be moved if Hillsborough officials can find a new location

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TAMPA — There's a growing sense among Hillsborough County officials that it won't be long before Tampa's Confederate monument is moved from its downtown location, as long as there's somewhere to move it.

But County Commissioner Les Miller will believe it when he sees it.

"I've been down this road before where I heard something was going to happen and it didn't," Miller said. "I'll be encouraged when I see four votes in favor of moving."

When they meet Wednesday, commissioners will take their second vote in a month to determine the fate of the 106-year-old marble monument, called Memoria en Aeterna.

On June 21, on a 4-3 vote, commissioners rejected a call by Miller and many of the county's African-American leaders to remove the monument from outside the old county courthouse. Miller has since requested a new vote, and at least one county commissioner has changed his mind.

Commissioner Victor Crist voted for the monument to stay where it is, but has since worked publicly and behind the scenes to find it a new home.

On Friday, Crist said there is a private cemetery that has tentatively agreed to take the Confederate monument.

But negotiations remain fragile. The board for the cemetery, which he wouldn't name, planned to vote on the proposal over the weekend.

"I think I have a deal," Crist said.

Crist can't attend Wednesday's meeting; he'll be in California wine country with his wife. And he won't be able to phone in for the meeting, which the board has allowed in the past during emergencies.

"My wife is taking my phone and I ain't getting it back until I get home," Crist said.

Miller wants to press ahead nevertheless. That means one of the three commissioners who voted against removal — Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White — would have to flip for the board to change its position.

Hagan and White did not return calls Friday. Murman declined to comment.

Commissioners Miller, Pat Kemp and Al Higginbotham voted in favor of removal last month.

Since that vote, those hoping to remove the monument have gained vocal support from Tampa officials like Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said the monument doesn't fit in the progressive city's booming downtown. The Tampa Bay Rays, who are weighing a move to Tampa, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also said they believe it should be moved.

Wednesday's meeting is sure to draw loud voices on both sides of the issue. At last month's vote, public comment lasted more than an hour. White, the board's chairman, frequently had to remind speakers not to attack each other and to remain silent in the audience.

To advocates of removal, many of them black or minority residents, the Confederate monument is a symbol of oppression and a reminder of the South's fight to preserve slavery. Several quoted a speech from then-state attorney Herbert Phillips, who on the day of the dedication in 1911 called African-Americans an "ignorant and inferior race."

According to a transcript of the speech in the next day's Tampa Morning Tribune, Phillips said, "The south declares that a president who appoints a negro to an office within her borders engenders sectional bitterness, encourages lynchings, injures the negro, is an enemy of good government and a traitor to the Anglo-Saxon race."

But proponents of keeping the monument in downtown Tampa have accused the other side of attempting to erase history. The statue — which depicts two soldiers, one heading into war and another, southbound, returning from battle in a tattered uniform — is a tribute to Confederate veterans, they say.

In addition to keeping the monument, White wants commissioners to approve an ordinance to ban the removal of any county war memorial. However, a vote on that proposal was pushed back to August.

"Let's get through this issue first and then tackle that one," Crist said.

If commissioners change course on the monument, they'll join other southern cities like New Orleans and Orlando that have removed Confederate statues.

Removing the statue would cost between $90,000 to $130,000, according to county estimates.

It's unclear at this point where the monument could end up, but it won't be at city-owned Oaklawn or Woodlawn cemeteries. Buckhorn rejected both as inappropriate, even though they have Confederate markers already.

Another historical cemetery, 100-year-old Myrtle Hill Cemetery, is out too. The privately owned cemetery said in a statement Friday that "there are no plans to relocate any statues to Myrtle Hill Memorial Park."

Organizers of Hillsborough County's Veterans Memorial Park don't want it either, Crist said.

Miller has proposed returning it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who paid to erect the monument in 1911 as part of a coordinated effort to build memorials sympathetic to the Southern cause.

Crist anticipates a compromise. Moving it to a cemetery, "for the most part satisfies most of the (removal) group," he said.

"Being able to go to see it, being able to have it still standing, having it in a location that is accessible, that satisfies the other group."

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

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