Alternative site for Tampa's Confederate monument: A cemetery

Tampa resident Zulema Ramos, 22, holds a protest sign in front of the Confederate monument located at 419 Pierce St. in downtown Tampa. ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times 

Tampa resident Zulema Ramos, 22, holds a protest sign in front of the Confederate monument located at 419 Pierce St. in downtown Tampa. ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times
Published July 6, 2017

TAMPA — One of the Hillsborough County commissioners who voted last month against removing a Confederate monument from downtown Tampa is now open to relocating it.

Commissioner Victor Crist said Wednesday he wants to move 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.

If he gets his way, it would be a major shift for the commission, which voted 4-3 on June 21 to keep the monument outside the old county courthouse, where it has stood since 1932.

But his idea earned a quick rebuke from Tampa officials who want no part of the controversial statue and last month ripped the Republican-led commission for not getting it out of the progressive city's downtown.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller said Wednesday he will once again ask his colleagues to remove the statue when they meet July 19.

Miller wants to give the statue back to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who paid for it and dedicated it on county land in 1911.

"We'll see if we can get a commissioner to change a heart and mind," he said.

Since the vote, Miller said he has seen a "major groundswell of people who want it removed." Local elected officials, activists, faith leaders and other residents recently held a protest and news conference in front of the monument calling for commissioners to reconsider, many noting that the keynote speaker called African Americans an "ignorant and inferior race" at its dedication.

Commissioners Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Stacy White voted against removal, while Miller and Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Pat Kemp wanted it gone.

At that meeting, Crist won support for putting a mural that promotes diversity on a 10-foot wall behind the monument. But the attempt at a compromise did not appease opponents.

Crist hopes Oaklawn Cemetery will.

The cemetery is a few blocks northwest of the monument's current location and its grounds include a marker honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors. There, Crist said, it would be "out of sight, out of mind" for people who want it removed, but still accessible for those who want it prominently displayed.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn scoffed at the idea as inappropriate. City-owned Oaklawn, opened in 1850, is historically significant. It is a mass grave of the city's earliest residents — "White and Slave, Rich and Poor" — and as one of the few graveyards in the nation where slaves and slave owners can be found in the same plots.

It is also close to St. Paul AME church, a vacant but historic black church, and Greater Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, a large, African American Church.

"I don't want members of Greater Bethel to be worshiping in the shadow of a Confederate memorial," Buckhorn said.

City Councilman Frank Reddick said he would "do everything within my means to make sure the city doesn't allow that to happen."

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Crist also floated Hillsborough's Veterans Memorial Park off Highway 301 and the 100-year-old Myrtle Hill Memorial Park in east Tampa, as potential locations for the monument.

Those destinations pose their own challenges. Myrtle Hill is a privately owned cemetery. For years, fights over Confederate symbols bogged down efforts to build a Civil War monument at Veterans Memorial Park.

"Both sides are going to have to be willing to give a little," Crist said. "I want to bring a resolve that everyone can live with and I'm confident that is possible."

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.