Confederate monuments and memorials have been looked upon through a wide variety of perspectives over the decades. One’s upbringing, background, birthplace, and interests can all have a bearing.
A full range of emotions from pride and boldness to embarrassment and rage are possible - and so much in between. One person’s opinion may also be completely different than another’s reality.
I had no relatives involved in the Civil War or any who even lived in the United States at the time. Additionally, I was born and raised 1,700 miles west of the Mason-Dixon line. These circumstances left me largely ignorant and ambivalent as to what those monuments represented when my family moved here some 50 years ago. Even when my mother, who was raised in the Bronx, tried her best to explain the rather generic image of a Confederate soldier by the courthouse in downtown Florence, it was nothing more to me than passing scenery. As I grew older, I never adopted the “Dixie” mindset. So, I never gave it a second glance, one way or another.
What can’t be argued is that emotions were meant to be tapped when most of those memorials were erected in the early 20th century. It was the pro-confederacy’s lingering form of intimidation. Over the generations, the intimidation element has understandably turned into bitterness.
A local pro-equality group, Project Say Something, has been advocating for the removal of the monument for two months.
They have petitioned the Florence City Council and the Lauderdale County Commission to move the monument from the Lauderdale County courthouse to the Soldier’s Rest, an area about a half-mile away in the Florence City Cemetery. They also have held several peaceful demonstrations that only recently have been infiltrated by outsiders looking to escalate tensions.
The side of the monument reads: “Unveiled with appropriate ceremonies April 25, 1903, Florence, Alabama.”
The appropriate ceremonies apparently included a speech with wording similar to the following:
“The North considers a Negro as a white man with a colored skin and Northerners believe that any difference can be resolved with education.
“We of the South know better,” the speech continues. “No other people know him so well or love him so well, but nowhere here is he accorded social equality. When the highest representative of Northern civilization invites the highest representative of negro civilization to sit at his table as his social equal, he digs a gulf between us too wide and deep for us to go to them or for them to come to us.”
I am not black, so I can’t put myself in that situation of facing or walking past a Confederate monument with such associated baggage directed at my ancestors. I would not want to, nor should I have to. And THAT consideration is what we should give to everyone else in the community.
Commission Chair, Danny Pettus, has a letter from the United Daughters of the Confederacy indicating they had given the monument to the city.
The county has sent a letter to Mayor Steve Holt stating commissioners are not opposed to the city moving the monument.
All six Florence City Council members have indicated they support moving the monument. However, they said the city cannot simply do that since the monument is on county property. City officials want the county’s approval in the form of a resolution which would supposedly free the city from liability in the event of damage to county property during the move.
If city is self-insured, they can make a call on any claim. Besides, surely any company qualified to move monuments and roof-top HVAC units would
have extensive liability coverage. If that’s not enough, and the city can’t pay, let’s add some one-time event insurance to the mix. I’d be willing to put up the first $300 towards that insurance policy just to get this process moving.
Lauderdale County commissioners say they will not issue a resolution allowing the city to move the Confederate monument because that would violate state law.
State officials have since told Pettus the monument having been given to Florence is no longer relevant. It has been on county property and has been county-maintained for so long that adverse possession laws are in play. So it is county property.
The county commission says it would require a legislative act repealing or changing the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act for them to consider such a move.
No, it would require adjusting their shorts and contacting the state AG’s office to arrange.
Other Alabama communities have dealt with the same issue. They moved monuments and paid the $25,000 fine. A member of the business community has committed to paying the fine in addition to the moving and resetting expenses. So there is nothing standing in the way, except history and pride.
It’s doubtful that the pro Confederate people in our community will forget its history and heroes if the monument is moved.
It’s also doubtful that the monument’s continued presence will allow local black people to progress toward true equality.
Everyone with any official say-so supposedly wants to see this happen, but almost everyone has an excuse as to why it can’t. It’s just a cluster of confusion.
Now, another group has filed suit “to protect and preserve the monument in front of the courthouse.” They apparently see things with a more narrow perspective.
What initially looked so promising has slowly deteriorated through bureaucratic technicalities. Now the monument is cordoned off with police tape and barriers. That’s not a very good look for tourism or prospective business.
Ironically, I recall a former Florence City Commissioner with whom I worked using a statement dozens of times over the years. His point is valid here.
“If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.”