Had they set out to find a conspicuous spot to display Hillsborough County’s divisive Confederate memorial, members of the Judah P. Benjamin Camp #2210 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans couldn’t have chosen better. • Hard-by busy U.S. 60 in Valrico, where the average daily traffic count tops 32,000, now stands the 1910 War Memorial, Memoria in Aeterna, with its two marble Confederate soldiers — one upright, facing north, headed to battle, the other southbound, humbled, tattered and defeated.
The memorial’s obelisk rises up so close to the roadway, it seems that westbound motorists stuck in traffic could reach out and touch it.
But the Sons of Confederate Veterans did not have a hand in the memorial’s new location. They bemoan that it was removed from downtown, in fact, and placed in a small, private cemetery, "between a taco stand and a pawn show (sic)." Their leader is so upset that he placed roses Friday at the site where the memorial stood until it was boxed up and hauled east one year ago.
The relocation capped a months-long debate before the Hillsborough County Commission over this local symbol of America’s darkest days and its presence on public property — tucked away in a corner outside the old courthouse. The decision was a victory for inclusion and for public participation in the political process. It enabled the community to close a painful and embarrassing chapter in its history.
That a Confederate apologist staged a ceremony lamenting the memorial’s removal from Tampa’s public square would be merely pathetic and unsurprising if not for other recent events.
Last month, students at the University of North Carolina used ropes to yank down a monument to 1,800 of their predecessors who signed up to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Years of inaction by the university helped spur this unlawful act of vandalism.
There is a common thread in the fate of these two memorials that justifies their removal — and the removal of any monument on public property meant to honor the Confederate cause. Whatever fresh varnish of legitimacy today’s apologists may try to apply — a proud heritage, say, or historical significance — these memorials were installed in a context of bigotry and hate.
Passionate words irrevocably attach to their mute concrete and marble.
At the 1913 dedication of UNC’s so-called "Silent Sam" statue, Julian Carr, an industrialist and Ku Klux Klan supporter, gave credit to Confederate soldiers for saving "the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South," and proclaimed, "to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States — Praise God."
Carr went on to tell a personal story: "One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady ..."
At the 1911 dedication of the Confederate monument in Tampa, the state attorney, Herbert Phillips, called blacks an "ignorant and inferior race" and declared that any president who appointed an African-American to office amounted to "an enemy of good government" and "a traitor to the Anglo-Saxon race."
Let us never forget repulsive speeches like these in the debate over what to do with the monuments they helped raise. At the same time, let’s acknowledge that merely moving monuments is but one stage in the long process of healing historic divisions.