On my way to class at the University of Tampa I stopped by the old County Courthouse to check on the Confederate Soldiers Monument.
Here is what I saw:
This is what it used to look like.
The soldier facing to the left marches briskly north to battle, rifle on his shoulder. The soldier facing south, head bandaged, hat in hand rifle dragging at his side, returns defeated and bowed, spirit still proud.
Steve Contorino, the Tampa Bay Times reporter who covered this story’s ups and downs, found reports of the speeches when Hillsborough County accepted this monument from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911. “The keynote speaker, state attorney Herbert S. Phillips, had this to say ‘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.'”
Before the Civil War and during its early years, white Southern firebrands were not ashamed to proclaim their cause: Slavery. In Phillips’ statement you can see that by 1911, 45 years after the war, white Southerners knew they had lost the war, but believed they had won the struggle for white supremacy and the suppression of blacks. They were not ashamed of what they believed was a cause that was right and just. They publicly proclaimed the meaning of this and the other monuments.
I played a small part, which I’ve described in earlier blog posts, beginning with my op-ed essay in the Tampa Tribune a year ago calling for this statue to be moved from public property, and including testifying twice before the County Commissioners.
At the first meeting, in June, to consider the matter, the commissioners voted against moving the statue. The next month, the commissioners reversed themselves and voted to move the statue to a private cemetery in Brandon, a town in Hillsborough County. The next month, in August, the commissioners, some of whom evidently really hated the thought of moving this monument to rebellion and the defense of slavery, voted that the monument would only move if proponents of the move could raise $140,000 in the next 24 hours.
To their surprise and chagrin, I surmise, the dedicated GoFundMe page quickly collected the money. Tony Dungee, the beloved former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, contributed $5000 and challenged the local professional teams to contribute. They did. They contributed tens of thousands of dollars through the Chamber of Commerce. The mayor of Tampa contributed $1000.
The week of Labor Day work began after a last-ditch suit to stop removing the statue was dismissed. Of course, work stopped as hurricane Irma approached. As you can see it was mostly completed, only the base remains.
I think this is remarkable. I’m new to Tampa, but I knew about these monuments all over the South. I’m impressed that, Americans, white and black, forward-thinking, favoring equality and justice for all citizens and residents have been able to dismantle these symbols of racism that proclaim an irreconcilable belief in white supremacy.