Wayne and readers,
In earlier posts I described the Gamble Plantation State Park and Judah P. Benjamin Memorial. This is in Ellenton near the Manatee river, which empties into Tampa Bay. It dates to the decade before the Civil War, when Gamble and dozens of slaves tried to grow sugar cane.
I wrote a letter to the park manager, inquiring as to why there was little mention of the slaves and their lives, and why the Park was honoring Benjamin, a Louisiana plantation and slave owner and Confederate cabinet officer, who had nothing to do with Florida.
He replied, as you can read in this post. You can read my reply to him. I accepted his invitation to come by for a talk, but I haven’t heard back in two weeks with a proposed time. So I wrote to him again with what I intend to say, if I were to meet with him.
Here’s the letter:
Dear Mr. Kiser,
My correspondence with you began with a snail mail letter, which I’m sure you remember.
I remarked that the role of slaves in creating and operating the Gamble Plantation was not stressed sufficiently at the Mansion or during the otherwise excellent tour. Also, that it seemed odd that Florida would honor in a state park a Louisiana plantation owner and slave owner, defender of slavery in the U. S. Senate, who had spent only a week or two in Florida, and who was a Cabinet officer of the Confederacy during the entire time of the rebellion. I knew that this reflected the interests and purposes of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who had given the restored mansion and grounds to the state in the 1920s.
I have a few suggestions for how the state park system might deal with these issues, given the reversion clause and the state law you told me about.
The Park might well leave the Memorial intact, just as the Daughters intended, but add truthful material, written and oral, that describes fully who he was. That is, leave the UDC’s limited portrait of him as a heroic Confederate in place. Add, outside the memorial bedroom, that he was a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner, that he owned many slaves (I guess the exact number would be available in census data.), that his priority during his time in the U. S. Senate was to defend slavery, and that he was a major leader of the uprising of Southern white people to preserve and expand slavery. Also that he spent only a week or two in Florida while fleeing at the end of the war, so he had nothing to do with Florida, its government, or its people. I suppose that the UDC would not like these improvements to the park’s historical material, but they are facts and complete the description of Benjamin.
Given the addition of this material about Benjamin to the park’s displays, written material, and oral presentations, I think the question would arise in visitors as to why Florida maintains a memorial to Judah Benjamin in a historical park showing pre-Civil War life in frontier Florida. Thus, I think the Park would have to include some material about who the United Daughters of the Confederacy are and why they would chose to honor such a man as Judah Benjamin, who had so little to do with Florida. Perhaps the Park would have to add material about the state of race relations in 1920s Florida.
Why didn’t the Daughters and Florida’s government chose to honor all of the early Florida pioneers who lived, worked, and died along the Manatee River and Tampa Bay, white settlers, slaves, and Seminoles? To honor all of Florida’s pioneers would be appropriate for a Florida State historical park.