One of the most divisive fights in Hillsborough County in years edged toward a quiet resolution last week as workers took down a Confederate memorial outside the old county courthouse. The debate over whether to move the monument brought out the best and worst in the community, but in the end, the public made itself heard and set a new bar for race relations in the public square.
With little fanfare Tuesday, a crew carefully separated and removed the two Confederate soldiers on either side of the 106-year-old marble monument. The move followed a contentious public debate that played out over months as supporters and opponents argued over whether the memorial should be removed from public land. Hillsborough County commissioners seesawed between retaining the memorial and removing it, only to create a window last month by agreeing to move the monument if private sponsors would pay for the work, which donors agreed to do in a single day. It was a classic case of good coming from a bad experience.
This was a painful, dishonest and unnecessary public debate for many reasons, chief among them the commission's failure to provide clear leadership. At the end of the day, however, all sides had their voices heard, the right decision was reached, the memorial was preserved for public viewing on private property and an ugly episode came to an orderly end. This should not, especially in the South, be taken for granted.
It stands to reason that some on the losing end cannot come to terms with the outcome. A group presenting itself as a defender of Southern heritage is suing the county to stop the monument's removal, an act one of its leaders Tuesday blamed on "a bunch of jackals." An administrative judge on Tuesday denied the group's request for an injunction halting the monument's removal while the lawsuit played out. This was another positive step that was in line with the law and the moral standards of the times.
The county intends to repair and store the memorial until its new home is ready at a Brandon cemetery. This should bring a dignified end to a public battle over race and history that has led to flashpoints in other cities. It also should be a reminder that Southern history did not end on the battlefield. The nation came together to form a strong republic. The principles of reconciliation endured through generations because Americans both North and South found ways to celebrate regional pride without extending it as cover for bigotry. It's time to put this episode in the past and focus on the challenges in moving the entire community forward.