Friday, November 24, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: A promising opening to resolve Confederate monument dispute

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An effort last month to move a Confederate monument from public property in downtown Tampa failed on a 4-3 vote by the Hillsborough County Commission. But this week, Commissioner Victor Crist reversed himself and now wants the monument moved to a more appropriate site. This is a breakthrough moment that could bring the community together, and commissioners should seize on this opening to find common ground.

Crist voted with the board majority last month in rejecting a request by Commissioner Les Miller to remove the memorial, which was dedicated in 1911 and stands in front of the old county courthouse. Numerous local elected officials, church leaders and activists have asked that it be removed, noting its homage to the racial underpinnings of the South's secessionist cause and the remarks by a speaker at the dedication ceremony who called African-Americans an "ignorant and inferior race."

This controversy has degenerated into revisionist history when the main issue is whether a monument to discrimination belongs outside a hall of justice. Of course it doesn't — and the task now is to find a more appropriate, lower-profile setting where this piece of history no longer opens new racial wounds.

Crist proposed moving the statue to Oaklawn Cemetery, Tampa's oldest public burial ground and the final resting place of the city's pioneers, 13 mayors, Confederate soldiers and slaves. Tampa officials, who blasted the county's decision last month, oppose the move, in part because the cemetery is near a historic black neighborhood, and in part because the city has no interest in bailing the county out of its public relations mess.

The city-owned Oaklawn is not the perfect solution. Tampa always has been a melting pot, and with downtown booming why would the city want a symbol of racism in its urban core? The cemetery grounds, though, already feature a marker honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors. At least the city would get the memorial off a major street. Crist also proposed moving the statue to Veterans Memorial Park, which occupies more than 13 acres of state and county land in east Hillsborough. That's a better fit, as the park already has land envisioned as a spot for a Civil War memorial.

The best solution would be to move the memorial to private property. Miller wants to give the statue to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which paid for it, and he plans to raise the issue at the next commission meeting July 19.

That leaves plenty of time to craft a sensible solution. There is no half-ground here; the county can either move it or suffer the protests and the damage to its public image. A relocation would also nix the commission's costly, awkward bid to compromise by installing a mural to diversity behind the statue and spending $250,000 in tax money on a half-baked anti-racism campaign. That was insulting. It's time to address the principled concerns of the opponents, not try to buy them off.

Crist deserves credit for his change of heart. His colleagues on the wrong side of last month's vote — Stacy White, Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman — should join in finding a resolution that is in keeping with today's values and the American ideal that all people are created equal.

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