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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Kriseman removes Confederate marker from St. Pete's waterfront

15

August

ST. PETERSBURG — Once it was a small, obscure reminder of the Confederacy sitting on the downtown waterfront. Now it’s gone.

A local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy put down the stone marker noting the southern terminus of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway at the intersection of Central Avenue and Bayshore Drive on Jan. 22, 1939. It has gone mostly unnoticed since then.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: For Tampa's Confederate monument, racist history clouds claims of heritage

The Tampa Bay Times asked the city about the marker on Monday. A mayor’s spokesman said they were trying to figure out whether it was on public or private land.

But on Tuesday, Mayor Rick Kriseman decided to act: He ordered city workers to remove the marker around noon.

The mayor made his decision at his weekly cabinet meeting and consulted with Police Chief Tony Holloway, who suggested removing it quietly without alerting the public or the media in the interests of public safety, said mayoral spokesman Ben Kirby.

The marker — a bronze plaque mounted to a large stone — is being stored at the Public Works Administration until the city can find the owner. Kirby said the city has reached out to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Before removing the Confederate marker, Kirby said the city determined that it lay within the city’s right-of-way for Bayshore Drive.

"The plaque recognizing a highway named after Stonewall Jackson has been removed and we will attempt to locate its owner,” Kriseman said in a statement to the Times. “The plaque may not have elicited the same attention or emotions as the offensive statues and monuments that glorify the Confederacy, but that's no reason for it remain on public land and serve as a flashpoint in this national debate."

The removal of the Confederate marker will not become a campaign issue in the mayor’s race pitting the incumbent Kriseman against former Mayor Rick Baker.

"Removing the Stonewall Jackson marker from Bayshore is the right thing to do," said a statement issued by the Baker campaign on Tuesday.

Debate over whether Confederate monuments should remain in public places has reached a fever pitch around the country after this weekend's violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the city's decision to remove statutes of Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

James Alex Fields, 20, was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder and other counts after authorities said he rammed his car into a crowd of people on Saturday, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

It was the latest and most violent flare-up in a series of protests and counter-protests over the fate of Confederate memorials, and the Tampa Bay area is no different.

The Hillsborough County Commission took two votes in recent weeks on whether to move a Confederate statue from outside the old county courthouse in downtown Tampa. After they voted June 22 to keep it there, they reversed course on July 19 and voted to move it to a private cemetery.

In Seffner, a Confederate monument was vandalized Monday. Florida Democratic candidate for governor Chris King has called for the removal of all Confederate statues from public places. Gainesville removed a Confederate statue from the grounds of the county administration building on Monday. This week the Jacksonville City Council president called for the removal of all Confederate memorials from city property.

St. Petersburg's marker doesn’t praise the Confederate general who was mortally wounded by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. It notes the spot where the memorial highway ended and the date the maker was erected by the Dixie Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Another chapter of that group erected the Tampa monument in 1911.

Historians say "Lost Cause" monuments such as these were built across the south decades after the Civil War to burnish the South and downplay the role of slavery in secession.

If no one takes possession of the Stonewall Jackson marker, Kirby said, the city could donate it to the St. Petersburg Museum of History.


PREVIOUS STORY:

ST. PETERSBURG — For years, the small stone with the plaque marked Turn 9 of the annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, although few may have noticed during the race because it was hidden behind a concrete barrier.

So, too, have numerous parades and protests — like January's Women's March — strode right past it.

It's easy to miss. But for how much longer?

St. Petersburg's obscure historical marker commemorating the southern terminus of the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway may not stay obscure for long.

The Confederate marker occupies prime waterfront real estate at the eastern end of Central Avenue at the intersection of Bayshore Drive, near some high-end restaurants and shops.

The future of such monuments and markers was already the subject of tense debate across the south. Then came this weekend's violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the city's decision to remove statutes of Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

James Alex Fields, 20, was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder and other counts after authorities said he rammed his car into a crowd of people on Saturday, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

It was the latest and most violent flare-up in a series of protests and counter-protests over the fate of Confederate memorials, and the Tampa Bay area is no different.

The Hillsborough County Commission took two votes in recent weeks on whether to move a Confederate statue from outside the old county courthouse in downtown Tampa. After they voted June 22 to keep it there, they reversed course on July 19 and voted to move it to a private cemetery.

St. Petersburg's marker doesn’t make any lofty allusions to the "Lost Cause," or sing the praises of the Confederate general who was mortally wounded by his own troops at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.

It just notes the spot where the memorial highway ended and the date the maker was erected by the Dixie Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy on Jan. 22, 1939. That was also the group that erected the Tampa monument in 1911. Such "Lost Cause" monuments were built across the south in the decades after the Civil War, historians say, to burnish the South after the war and downplay the role of slavery in secession.

The city hasn’t received any complaints about the marker, said mayoral spokesman, Ben Kirby. And on a day when police investigated weekend vandalism of Confederate monument near Tampa, where a massive Confederate flag flies over Interstate 75, the St. Petersburg marker sat unblemished and unnoticed by a steady stream of pedestrians on Monday.

The plaque faces west, into the street and away from the sidewalk, which makes it easy to miss.

When the Hillsborough County Commission started earlier this summer to debate whether to remove the Confederate monument from outside the old courthouse, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman asked city staff to conduct an audit of any Confederate monuments on city-owned land. This was the only one they found.

No one at the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va. was available to speak about the marker on Monday.

The location of the Stonewall Jackson Highway itself is a bit of an unknown. One online source reported the highway ended in Jefferson County near the Georgia state line, which could indicate it followed U.S. 19 north.

While the private Greenwood Cemetery in Roser Park has a Confederate monument, according to the Florida Public Archaeology Network, the Stonewall Jackson marker is the only Confederate relic was the only thing that turned up in the city's search — and Kirby said officials still don't know if it sits on the public right-of-way or on private property.

The mayor asked staff to look into the matter, Kirby said, but so far, nothing has been resolved.

Does Kriseman support removing the Confederate marker if the city has the right to do so?

"He supports the removal of anything on public property that pays tribute to the Confederacy," Kirby wrote in a text to the Tampa Bay Times. "He has asked staff for more information on this partcular plaque."

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. 

[Last modified: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 4:54pm]

    

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