I grew up in Pensacola, maybe the most Southern of North Florida's cities, or at least the one close enough to the state line to be dubbed "Lower Alabama."
I ate grits. I said "y'all" and "ain't." I still do.
When I was a kid, my parents would take me downtown to see the latest Disney movie (because that's where you went to see movies before the malls were built), and I always knew we were getting close when I could see the 50-foot-tall Confederate memorial. We'd be driving along the city's main street, and the weathered gray monument would suddenly loom up like a ghost.
Unveiled in 1891, three sides of the monument salute Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory, Confederate General Edward Aylesworth Perry — both from Pensacola — and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The fourth side is dedicated to "The Uncrowned Heroes of the Southern Confederacy, whose joy was to suffer and die for a cause they believed to be just. Their unchallenged devotion and matchless heroism shall continue to be the wonder and inspiration of the ages."
The current mayor of Pensacola has a name straight out of Gone With the Wind: Ashton Hayward. Days after the tragic events in Charlottesville, Mayor Hayward announced that he wants to tear down that Confederate monument.
All I can say is: Good!
Being put on a statue is an honor. The people named on that statue committed treason against the United States, and they did so in defense of slavery. They don't deserve the honor they've been granted.
This same discussion is going on all over the South right now, including Manatee County, where the commission just voted to remove their statue. A lot of people signed a petition to replace it with a statue of Snooty, the late, lamented manatee that lived for more than 60 years at the South Florida Museum.
What a great idea! Instead of just tearing down old monuments, let's replace them with new ones that will bring people together. Salute things that everyone can enjoy. Salute people who fought for America, not people who fought against it.
For instance, why not replace Pensacola's monument with a statue of someone from Pensacola who achieved something great? Reubin Askew, the governor so widely praised that his nickname was "Reubin the Good," would fit that bill. So would Emmitt Smith, who set the NFL's all-time rushing record.
Hillsborough County could replace theirs with a giant from Tampa's history, such as jazz giant Cannonball Adderley, actress Butterfly McQueen or TV pitchman Billy Mays — maybe holding a ShamWow. I bet ShamWow would even help pay for it, or at least keep it clean.
People in Polk County now debating the fate of their statue could replace it with one of computer inventor John Atanasoff, Red Lobster founder Bill Darden, or Gov. "Walkin' " Lawton Chiles. My preference for that one would be a pose from his second inaugural, when he showed up wearing a coonskin cap and toting a potato gun with which he fired several spuds toward the governor's mansion.
And up in St. Augustine, their Confederate monument could be replaced by one of Pulitzer-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (she ran a hotel there that's now a Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum, believe it or not) or musical genius Ray Charles, who learned to play the piano there at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. Picture that monument with a speaker that plays Brother Ray's greatest hits at the push of a button. Now picture all the tourist traffic for that!
There are plenty of Florida people more deserving of a statue than any Johnny Reb. For instance, the first soldier to earn a Medal of Honor in World War II was Lt. Alexander "Sandy" Nininger Jr. of Fort Lauderdale. Where's his statue?
Or we could go the Snooty route and put up statues to all the animals that have made Florida great The mighty tarpon, for instance, did a lot more to build up the tourist trade in Lee County than Robert E. Lee ever did. Yet Lee gets the county named for him and the fish gets no recognition.
More people come to Florida to see our wildlife than to see those old monuments. Yet where are our alligator statues? Our roseate spoonbill monuments? Where's the memorial to the leaping (and delicious) mullet?
The greatest Florida statue of them all, I think, is the Possum Monument in the Panhandle community of Wausau. Every August, Wausau throws a festival to honor the humble possum for providing everyone in town with food during the Great Depression. They even name a Possum Queen. Now 'fess up, y'all, ain't that better for Florida than a statue of a traitor?
Enough said. Now let's all go eat a big ol' bowl of grits.
Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.