Saturday, May 26, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: It's time for Hillsborough to quit promoting Confederate 'heritage'

It is true that things tend to move a bit slowly around here from time to time. But 106 years to finally wake up to the realization a cheesy declasse vestige of Florida's racist past is still hanging around the Hillsborough County Court House would seem to take procrastination to an entirely new level of myopia.

Since 1911 a statue paying tribute to Confederate veterans has been culturally polluting the public byways. It currently resides near the entrance of the courthouse, which certainly ought to make African-Americans entering the building seeking justice wonder if they'll get a fair shake with images of Billy Bob and Gomer standing vigil nearby.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller, who is black, has finally arrived at the conclusion that enough of all this gooberism is enough. And he would like to see the Confederate memorial removed, which only goes to prove even elected public officials occasionally stumble on a good idea.

And oh, while we're at it, it is long overdue for the Hillsborough County School Board to move to change of the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School. While patently offensive on a number of levels, Lee Elementary also serves a predominantly minority student body. This would be like naming a school that caters to native American pupils after Andrew Jackson. What would the school mascot be? The Fighting Trail of Tears?

Hillsborough County is certainly no slacker when it comes to advertising its redneck bona fides. For years a massive Confederate flag has been flapping away at the Interstate 75/Interstate 4 junction, as if to say to those entering the community, "Welcome to Hicksville!"

But more recently cities across the south, most notably New Orleans, have been steadily removing Confederate flags, statues and other symbols of our racist history and the stain of slavery's legacy.

And now we have Les Miller attempting to right a very, very long wrong. Welcome to 2017, where common decency may at last take hold. It's all the rage, you know.

Of course whenever this sort of issue arises about a misplaced tribute to honoring treason and slavery, supporters of the monuments love to engage in some revisionist history poppycock that all these memorials actually do is pay homage "heritage" and "culture" and the fake bravery of the men who died to defend state's rights. Balderdash, or words to that effect.

The Civil War Confederate willfully, illiterate apologists insist slavery was but a mere afterthought in the conflict between North and South. Indeed, if you listen to these folks you would think nobody owned any slaves — certainly none of their ancestors— who betrayed their country because of taxes, trade issues and decentralized government. Slavery? What slavery?

Their's is a South of juleps on the veranda, genteel balls with men decked out in all their finery, women in hoop skirts and the lyrical call of mockingbirds way down upon the Suwannee River. Dred Scott? Never heard of him.

But they conveniently ignore one of their hero's own words. In the days before the onset of hostilities, Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, delivered a rousing speech, in which he left no doubt the impending Civil War was grounded entirely in maintaining the institution of slavery.

"African slavery as it exists amongst us [is] the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization," Stephens said, later adding, "... the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition." Well, you have to say this about Stephens: Ambiguity was not his strong suit.

And yet we name elementary schools after a traitor. We revere monuments to defending slavery. And we hoist huge flags promoting a subset of a half-wit population who cannot accept the fact they rightfully lost.

This is Hillsborough County's moment to decide if it wants to continue to honor a dishonorable past, or at last acknowledge the time has come to cast off the shackles of ignorance.

It certainly is Les Miller's finest hour of public service.

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