Ruth: Blocking slavery memorial cannot erase Florida's history

Associated Press
Associated Press
Published May 3 2017
Updated May 7 2017

Who knew Sen. Dennis Baxley was such a sensitive chap?

It turns out the Ocala Republican is really the Mr. Rogers of the Florida Legislature. He only wants to think good, positive thoughts. Won't you be his neighbor? Just as long as you're the right … ahem … kind of person. Let's not get too carried away with all this Kumbaya stuff.

So when a bill showed up in the Florida Senate to create a Tallahassee memorial to the original American sin of slavery, Baxley, the Buford T. Justice of parliamentary procedure, protested.

The slavery memorial proposal had passed unanimously in the Florida House. But Baxley, R-" 'In The Heat of the Night' Is a Comedy, Right?," opposed the measure. He argued a monument honoring the legions of blacks who were treated like subhuman chattel would be such a bummer.

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Instead Baxley, R-"I Love the Smell of Juleps in the Morning," said he would prefer a memorial that celebrates people in a more uplifting manner. And since he chairs the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, where the slavery memorial bill landed, the measure wasn't even scheduled for a hearing.

Do you suppose the senator probably isn't too enthusiastic about Holocaust museums and memorials because, you know, that whole genocide thing is really depressing?

Baxley reasoned the state would never build a memorial to child abuse or sexual abuse. Why would a memorial recognizing the terror of slavery make sense? Uh, because it involved nearly 4 million people thrust into bondage to support a nearly $4 billion agricultural industry, was the leading cause of the Civil War and remains a critical vestige of this nation's continuing struggle to confront its racist past?

But Baxley has a long history of being the Legislature's leading revisionist historian.

It was Baxley who got his Stars and Bars in a wad years ago over the removal of the word "darkies" from the state song, Stephen Foster's Old Folks at Home, with the ham-handed reasoning, "We can celebrate everyone's culture but mine."

Baxley also opposed the inclusion of a monument to the more than 200 Union soldiers, including black troops, who died in the 1864 Civil War Battle of Olustee in North Florida on the grounds that creating a tribute to Northern soldiers represented a Florida parks bureaucracy running amok with unchecked power. We pause here for a well-timed forehead slap.

The same state senator who has whined about honoring the memories of loyal U.S. soldiers who died to preserve the union, who supported retaining a bigoted term in the state song as a matter of cultural pride, and who has now gotten all faux self-righteously aflutter over a proposal to pay respect to the victims of Florida's slave history, has been a steadfast champion of flapping the Confederate flag over state and local government property.

"I have discomfort about memorializing slavery," Baxley said. Never mind the senator is also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Whew, no conflict of interest there!

Baxley can be as obstructionist as he wants. He can kill the slavery memorial proposal by virtue of his political power and historical illiteracy. But he cannot erase that slavery is part of Florida's history.