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Southern heritage groups sue to keep Confederate monument at old Tampa courthouse

TAMPA — Groups that say they support Southern heritage filed a lawsuit late Friday trying to halt the removal of a Confederate statue from downtown Tampa.

The groups — Save Southern Heritage, Veterans' Monuments of America and the United Daughters of the Confederacy — contend that the decision to move the statue from the old Hillsborough County courthouse is unconstitutional and that the County Commission failed to follow its own laws in voting to do so.

Commissioners voted last month 4-2 to relocate the 106-year-old statue, called Memoria en Aeterna, to a small family cemetery in Brandon.

On Wednesday, commissioners added a caveat that the county would not pay for the $140,000 move and told private citizens they had 30 days to raise the money themselves. Citizens raised the needed funds by the next day, and the county placed boards around the statue.

The lawsuit, which asks for an injunction to temporarily prevent any move, says that the decision to move the statue restricts people's First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit also says that commissioners voted to move the statue and not an accompanying plaque. The suit says the plaque should be kept in place.

Rumors about a possible lawsuit were already swirling before it was official.

In response, Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher said, "We're very comfortable that all the actions that the board has made are fully legal."

Leaders in the black and religious communities say the Confederate monument is a reminder of the South's fight to preserve slavery.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised $3,000 to erect the monument in 1911.

At the dedication of the statue, then-State Attorney Herbert Phillips called African-Americans an "ignorant and inferior race."

The monument was moved to outside the old county courthouse in 1952. The building is now an office that houses traffic court and conducts weddings.

Times Staff Writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.