Friday, February 23, 2018
Opinion

Dan Ruth: Hillsborough County Commission blows it again

For a brief, fleeting moment the Hillsborough County Commission had a golden opportunity to simply do the right thing, the decent thing, the dignified thing.

So, of course, they blew it. This is Hillsborough County after all, where intellectual honesty goes to die.

This should have been a no-brainer, which may explain why four county commissioners, Sandra Murman, Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Stacy White, all put political ambition ahead of civic goodwill.

A colleague, Les Miller, who is black and the grandson of a slave, had called for the removal of the treasonous Confederate memorial, which presently soils a path of space outside the old County Courthouse. It actually has a title, Memoria in Aerterna, which is Latin for "Slavery? What slavery?"

This might come as something of a shock to Murman, Crist, Hagan and White, a Confederacy of Dunces in their own right, but a statue honoring the institution of bondage, which kept Miller's ancestors in chains, is considered a rather offensive poke in the eye not only to the community's black citizenry, but to anyone else who understands the Civil War was fought over maintaining the means of production otherwise known as — all together now — slavery.

Indeed, when the monument was first dedicated in 1911, then State Attorney Herbert Phillips cheerfully acknowledged the display sought to convey the message that black Americans were an "ignorant and inferior race," adding that anyone who sought to help these former slaves was an "enemy of good government and a traitor to the Anglo-Saxon race." Fun guy.

And yet a majority of the county commission still thought it was a grand idea to preserve a symbol born of hate and dedicated in the spirit of racism.

To be sure, the question over whether the monument should stay or go sparked a robust debate before the commission. And of course there was the usual jibber-jabber about how — tut-tut, the Confederate monument was actually nothing more than a edifice honoring Southern culture and heritage and the glory of the brave seditious and gullible men who were led to slaughter in the service of land barons and the principle of states' rights.

Piffle, sheer piffle. And balderdash, too.

There is certainly a place for Memoria in Aeterna. which is Latin for Foghorn Leghorn. A fishing reef comes to mind. But if all these revisionist history sons and daughters and third cousins born from the same branch of the family tree of the Confederacy want to have their little pieces of marble and granite preserved, fine, schlep the statue over to the Tampa History Center. Or perhaps stick it next to the flapping, massive Confederate flag at the intersection of I-75 and I-4, which greets visitors entering Tampa with a giant "Welcome to Hicksville."

The dispute over the Confederate monument to stupid attracted all manner of national attention, especially since other locales such as Charleston and New Orleans have acted to remove these last remaining vestiges of bigotry from public property.

But not here. Not in Hillsborough County, where it should be noted all four of the Doo-Dah, Doo-Dah commissioners who turned their backs on their African-American constituents are running for reelection.

In his otherwise terrific book "Giant of the Senate," about his improbable rise from a 35-year stint in comedy to a career in politics representing Minnesota in Washington, Al Franken commits a common error, asserting there isn't a single statewide elected Democrat to be found in the Deep South, as if Bill Nelson was a senator from the St. Paul suburb of Florida.

This is a common mistake folks like Franken make — perceiving Florida only through the prism of cosmopolitan Miami and the mouse ears of Orlando.

But Florida is very, very much a deep south state. And if Franken has any doubt about that, first he should spend some time observing the yahoos of the Florida Legislature, followed up with a trip to Hillsborough County by way of the I-4/I-75 junction and a visit to the old County Courthouse.

And what trip to Deep South Hillsborough County would be complete for Franken without some juleps on the verandah with Murman, Crist, Hagan and White, all served up with proper deference by Les Miller?

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