Florida residents are livid that one of its counties could become the first in the country to restore a previously-removed Confederate monument under a proposal that was set to be voted upon on Tuesday—just ahead of Black History Month—until it was abruptly removed once community members found out.
During a meeting this week, Manatee County officials were supposed to vote on whether to reinstate a memorial for Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis at the Bradenton courthouse that had been removed in 2017 and placed in storage, according to Saratoga Magazine. But lawmakers made a hasty decision to remove the item from Tuesday’s agenda without alerting community members—some who traveled and took the time to voice their frustrations.
Citizens nevertheless blasted the board of Manatee County commissioners during a contentious public-comments portion of the meeting.
“I don’t understand how anyone—how reasonable people—think it’s a good idea to erect a monument that glorifies crimes against humanity,” local resident Tina Shoop said. “No one—no one—can seriously think that glorifying slavery, glorifying those who supported slavery, glorifying people who fought against the government of the United States—how can that be a good idea?”
“How can you say you support the Constitution when you want to glorify those who fought against the United States? Please, please, please do not erect a monument that glorifies hate,” Shoop concluded, to much applause from attendees.
Another Manatee County resident, Shannon Keever, implied officials removed the vote at the last minute once it gained public traction.
“We don’t trust that you’ve put this issue to rest, but I certainly hope that we’re wrong. It’s time for you to stop these divisive culture wars that have nothing to do with the constituents,” she said.
Local resident Gerald Hill told the board it was “repugnant that any person be forced to view [the restored] memorial to racism and insurrection.”
“Our public property and resources should not be devoted to hatred,” he said. “Returning [the monument] to this site would be telling the world in effect, ‘Yes, we in Manatee County, Florida, think that slavery and racial discrimination are just fine.’ Everyone else in the United States is tearing down their Confederate statues, but we like them so much we’re putting our statue back up again.”
Manatee County would be unique in its position. The Daily Beast previously reported that multiple Confederate monuments taken down following the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, have been repurposed in a variety of ways, including deconstructed into pieces of art for cultural centers or displayed in museum exhibits. None was restored to their previous positions for public display.
The fiery meeting on Tuesday picked up even more steam when Sarah Parker, a resident of Sarasota County and president of Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida, accused the board of commissioners of disregarding Black History Month by voting on a racialized issue.
“It is one day before Black History Month. One day. Not one proclamation was for Black history, but what you guys did do prior to that was an attempt to reinstall the Confederate statue,” she asserted. “You pulled it after you knew that everyone was organizing.”
She claimed the officials repeatedly introduced the proposal to restore the monument for two years but kept backtracking.
“All of the people on that statue have nothing to do with Manatee County. At all. Period,” she said. “During Black History Month, we celebrate Black accomplishments. We celebrate all the amazing things that Black people did for this country. We celebrate the fact that we were taken over here and forced to work in this country, forced to be slaves. We celebrate how we came from that. We celebrate how we built from that. We literally came from the bottom. How dare none of you bring up the fact this is Black History Month?! …And how dare you to ever put that on the schedule! Sometimes racism isn’t blatant; it’s inherent. And this is inherent.”
Manatee County decided to remove the Confederate statue in August 2017 after hundreds of demonstrators protested against its placement on public property at the Manatee County Courthouse, WGCU reported at the time. The following day, the board decided in a 4-3 vote to dismantle the monument, which was broken during removal.
The board of commissioners never announced the proposal to restore the statue, and none has ever publicly explained a rationale, leaving most residents to find out through Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
At the meeting, some members of the board said they wanted to preserve history but were not in favor of placing the monument back in front of the courthouse.
“I do not want to erase our history,” commissioner Jason Bearden said, claiming he wanted to use the monument as a history lesson if it was resurrected. “I wanna know exactly where we come from.”
“It belongs in a museum,” he added, pushing for the monument to be relocated to the site of a former plantation.
Other board members agreed with the majority of public comments.
Commissioner Amanda Ballard, a self-proclaimed history lover, considered a restoration to be “divisive,” “hurtful,” and “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Commissioner George Kruse said the memorial was a “universal dislike” and said he’d do everything in his power to make sure it “does not go in front of that courthouse.”
Of the dozens of attendees who took to the podium Tuesday, not one spoke in favor of reinstalling the monument.
Seneca Bristol, vice president of the youth chapter of Women’s Voices Southwest Florida, claimed “it’s always ‘land of the free’ until it comes to Black people.”
Other speakers questioned why people in the community wanted to honor such a “despicable” history. One speaker called members of the board “racists” after claiming the reinstallation was “completely unpopular.” Another reminded officials they make a pledge to the United States of America, not the “Confederates States of Insurrection.”
“Why is there a monument dedicated to some of the worst people in our history and not to the countless slaves, the countless people that have been oppressed and affected and killed under a lot of these people’s influence?” Harrison Lundy, a Hillsborough County resident. asked.
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment Thursday.