Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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Outtakes—Slipped Through His Grasp

By Rick Outzen

Inweekly could not have been prouder of Mayor Ashton Hayward when he took a strong stance against racism and discrimination three days after the violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“Together with mayors from across the country, and on behalf of the citizens of Pensacola, I am reiterating my unequivocal belief that hate and bigotry have no place in America,” said Hayward in a written statement sent to the newspaper.

We were gratified even more the next day when the mayor and Councilman Larry Johnson spoke out for the removal of the “Our Confederate Dead” monument in Lee Square. Their statements were bold and courageous. Hayward and Johnson were in unique positions to make it happen. They had the power and influence to guide the removal through the process established by the council.

There was pushback, and we offered suggestions. I interviewed Dr. Michael Butler, who wrote a book about the integration of Pensacola in 1960-1980. He recommended that public meetings were needed to help the community talk through the issues of slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow era and integration.

Mayor Hayward stopped holding town hall meetings in December 2013. He’s uncomfortable when confronted by opposing viewpoints. However, I put out that idea because the mayor could bring in someone to facilitate such a meeting. He would have to attend and respond, but the meeting could help heal the community.

It soon became clear that Hayward and Johnson didn’t have a plan. Both talked about putting it in a museum somewhere but gave no details. I contacted Commissioner Grover Robinson, who suggested Fort Barrancas as an appropriate home for the monument. Confederate soldiers controlled the fort during the first year of the war, he said.

St. John’s Cemetery has 80 CSA veterans interred, including three generals. Its board sent a letter to the mayor offering to place the “Our Confederate Dead” monument on its grounds. The reaction on Facebook to the proposal was very positive.

Pensacola’s strong mayor had several options before him. He had an excellent opportunity to lead his community through a discussion that would have received national attention and maybe create a road map for how other cities should deal with their Confederate pasts.

Instead, Hayward passed the issue to the city council, telling his supporters privately that it was “too hot” to handle. Council President Brian Spencer then announced he would have the council discuss at its Sept. 14 meeting whether it wants to hold a meeting on the monument. In other words, they will meet to discuss if they want to meet.

Sigh.