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Editorial: Hillsborough commissioners should revisit vote on Confederate monument

The Hillsborough County Commission should find a more appropriate home for this Confederate statue instead of creating a diversion with spin and public money.

CHRIS URSO | Times

The Hillsborough County Commission should find a more appropriate home for this Confederate statue instead of creating a diversion with spin and public money.

It should be clear to those on both sides of the Hillsborough County Commission's decision to keep a Confederate memorial in place that the commission's so-called compromise doesn't work. The dignified protest outside the memorial on Tuesday reaffirms that the pain from this history isn't going away, and the commission should find a more appropriate home for the statue instead of creating a diversion with spin and public money.

The commission voted 4-3 last week to keep the memorial, which stands outside the old courthouse in downtown Tampa, after hearing opposing views from those who view the memorial as a symbol from the racist past or as a historical marker of Florida's Confederate heritage. Those two sides will never see eye to eye, and Commissioner Victor Crist's awkward, expensive attempt at compromise will not look better with time. The commission allowed the memorial to stay, ordered up a mural behind it to celebrate diversity and committed $250,000 toward an anti-racism campaign.

Nobody asked for a mural, and throwing money at an anti-racism campaign to ease the sting of keeping a symbol of racism is illogical. Hillsborough commissioners have to look no further than St. Petersburg to see the difficulty of trying to commission public art that somehow makes amends for racist symbols. And in St. Petersburg, the racist art has been long gone and City Council members still abandoned a plan to fill the blank wall in City Hall with new artwork that also was controversial. Imagine creating a mural to reflect inclusiveness behind a statue saluting the racist past.

The Hillsborough Commission's decision will only keep this issue alive. Mayor Bob Buckhorn took the extraordinary step to remind everyone that the decision was by the county, not the city of Tampa, even though the statue sits only blocks from City Hall. The City Council followed suit hours later, lamenting the image that Tampa would suffer in the national spotlight. The Tampa area is on a progressive roll, and a simmering controversy over a Confederate memorial is the last thing a community needs as it competes for high-tech jobs and young workers.

This memorial was dedicated in 1911 with a speech calling blacks "ignorant and inferior," and it's an ode to racial discrimination. There is no reason for the county to destroy the monument, but it doesn't belong on prominent public property and certainly not outside any hall of justice. The county should work with monument supporters to move the statue to another location, which would be a real exercise in leadership.

This decision was out of character for two commissioners in particular who declined to move the memorial. Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan are better public servants, more attuned to the community's diversity and more thoughtful than that. Upon reflection, they should recognize that the vote has only the veneer of compromise that will produce more hard feelings. This is a moment the public is looking at them for leadership and sensitivity.

The last thing Tampa needs as its downtown is booming and thousands of new residents move to the area is a public homage to an ugly era. The average outsider makes no distinction between Tampa and Hillsborough County, and this vote lumps everyone under an umbrella of backwardness and intolerance. That only damages civic pride and the region's appeal. County commissioners should revisit their decision and find common ground on moving a memorial whose symbolism has no place outside a courthouse that welcomes all.

Editorial: Hillsborough commissioners should revisit vote on Confederate monument 06/28/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 4:49pm]
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