Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday January 23rd 2019

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Outtakes—Move It

By Rick Outzen

State Rep. Mike Hill has proposed legislation that he’s convinced will win white voters—the Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act.

The bill would prohibit the removal of any monument or remembrance on public property that honors veterans who fought in any war or campaign from the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604) to Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011), including the Civil War.

The city of Pensacola has a Confederate monument that has hovered over the downtown area since 1891. The widows of former Florida Governor Edward Perry, who was a Confederate general, and Stephen Mallory, the former Confederate Secretary of the Navy, raised funds to honor their late husbands and other Confederate contemporaries. Hill’s bill would preserve it forever.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson opposes the bill because he doesn’t agree with the Florida Legislature preempt local governments. He told reporters, “Every community should be able to make their own decisions.”

However, he doesn’t believe the “Our Confederate Dead” monument should be removed from city property.

“I’ve never believed necessarily taking stuff down makes us a better place,” the mayor said. “What makes us a better place is being respectful and realizing that we all have differences of how we got here.”

I disagree with Mayor Robinson. The statue should not be on public property. He is overlooking the context in which the monument was erected.

When Perry ran for governor in 1884, 45 percent of Escambia County’s residents were African American, and most voted Republican. Perry promised to rid Florida of its “carpetbagger” Republican governments. He didn’t carry Escambia County.

Once elected, Governor Perry abolished Pensacola’s city charter, which allowed him to remove all Republican black public officials and replace them with his cronies. He fought for the approval of a new state constitution that took away the right for African American men to vote, made segregation within public schools mandatory and banned interracial marriage.

The monument in Lee Square is as much a remembrance of Perry’s “accomplishments” as it is of dead Confederate soldiers.

When our newspaper covered the 2017 protests regarding the monument, writer Christopher Satterwhite interviewed Matthew Clavin, University of Houston history professor and author of “Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and Southern Frontier.” He explained why monuments were dedicated several decades after the war.

“The monuments were erected to both remember the sacrifices of a previous generation and serve contemporary political agendas, such as the promotion of legalized racial segregation,” said Clavin.

St. John’s Cemetery has 80 CSA veterans interred. In 2017, its board sent a letter to former Mayor Ashton Hayward offering to place the “Our Confederate Dead” monument on its grounds.

We should take them up on their offer and move the Confederate monument to St. John’s Cemetery. After all, that’s where Governor Perry is buried.