When Linnea and I visited the Hillsborough County Courthouse a few months ago to get our marriage license, we stopped to look at the War Memorial on the plaza in front. It honored soldiers who fought in WW I, WW II, and the Korean War. Next to it was a monument to Confederate Soldiers described as “patriots” who fought in the War Between the States.
Reflecting upon this, I was bothered that the monument did not honor Union soldiers, some of whom were from Florida, and that it stood in front of the Courthouse. I wrote to my County Commissioner, from whom I heard nothing. Then I wrote an essay which I sent to the Tampa Bay Times and then to the Tampa Tribune. I guess the horrible murders in Charleston and the subsequent fuss about the Confederate battle flag made my essay seem timely.
The Tampa Tribune published on Tuesday, June 26, 2015, on their op-ed page.
Here it is:
Confederate monument should be removed from Hillsborough courthouse grounds
By BERNARD LEIKIND
Special to The Tampa Tribune
To the left of the main entrance to the Hillsborough County Courthouse stands the county’s War Memorial. Words embossed on bronze plaques honor American warriors who fought in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. They fought for our freedom, say the plaques.
To the right of the main entrance stands the county’s Confederate Soldier’s Monument. On a tall stone base stand two soldiers and a stele. One determined soldier, rifle on his shoulder, standing erect and facing north, marches to war; the other soldier, facing south, dejected, head bandaged, rifle at his side, returns with his honor intact in defeat. The engraving on the base describes these men and the others who fought for the Confederacy as patriots.
But they and their comrades were not patriots. The Civil War was a cataclysm that worked damage throughout our nation, and many of its baleful effects continue. Such an event does not have one cause, and there were various conflicts between the Northern and Southern states in the decades before the war. In the years before the war and during its early years, Americans knew what the war was about: slavery. They said so in their states’ secession documents, in fiery speeches and countless editorials.
Here are the words of Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy throughout its existence:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
This is his “cornerstone” speech, delivered in the heady days of March 1861. White Southerners were not shy about their reasons for rejecting Abraham Lincoln’s election victory and for attacking the government of the United States. They were not shy about their motives because they believed that God was on their side and that they would win.
Here are the words of Ulysses S. Grant, writing of his feelings upon receiving Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Virginia:
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
Everyone on both sides knew what the war was about.
The soldiers honored on Tampa’s Confederate Soldier’s Monument were not fighting for the freedom and rights of all Floridians. At the time they marched to war, more than 40 percent of Florida’s population of more than 90,000 were black slaves. Slave owner or not, Florida’s white Confederate soldiers fought to keep Florida’s black residents in slavery, as property, with no more civil or legal rights than oxen. Florida’s 40,000 black slaves would not have considered those white soldiers to be patriots.
This is the 21st century, and the residents of Hillsborough County are citizens of the United States and of Florida, one of our nation’s major states. Historians tell us that about 15,000 white Floridians fought on the side of the Confederacy, and that about 2,000 Floridians, white and black, fought for every Floridian’s freedom on the side of the Union.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised the funds, designed the memorial and donated it to a grateful city in 1911. It stood before the old county courthouse for 40 years. This memorial arises from the era of Lost Cause historical writing and was built in the middle of the Jim Crow era.
The Civil War, named the War Between the States on the monument in Lost Cause language, ended 150 years ago. Thus, as Americans we might well choose to honor all the soldiers, white and black, who fought in that terrible conflict. It is strange, however, to only honor the soldiers of one side. To one side of the courthouse door we honor soldiers who fought for the freedom of all of us. To the other, we honor those who fought for some white people’s freedom and for black people’s slavery.
It is incongruous, to say the least, that today’s black citizens seeking justice in our county’s courts must pass by this monument honoring as “patriots” those who fought and died to deny them legal rights.
The Confederate Soldier’s Memorial should be moved from the courthouse grounds. Put it in a park or a museum to preserve it as a historical artifact of Southern American life before World War I. Put up a new memorial at the courthouse to honor the courage to all Americans who fought in the Civil War, white, black, Floridians and others.
At the courthouse, proclaim America’s promise of equal justice before the law.
Bernard Leikind lives in Carrollwood.
This article appeared on page 13 of the Tampa Tribune, Wednesday, June 24, 2015.
The correct census data for Florida in 1860 was about 140,000 total residents, 90,000 whites, and 50,000 black slaves. Thus the slaves formed nearly 40% of the total population, and there were about 55% as many slaves as white people.