Florida's Controversial Proposal: Restoring Confederate Statues in the Face of National Reckoning
Image By: USA Today

Florida’s Controversial Proposal: Restoring Confederate Statues in the Face of National Reckoning

Confederate monuments in Orlando, Tampa, and most recently Jacksonville have been taken down as part of a nationwide reevaluation of public memorials commemorating the Confederacy.

However, if a bill passes into law next year, local leaders may face fines or removal from office for removing these monuments.

State Representative Dean Black, a Republican from Jacksonville, is advocating for the measure to safeguard monuments, including those honoring the Confederacy, and to penalize local officials responsible for their removal.

The bill is retroactive, aiming to reinstate monuments that were removed by local governments after January 1, 2017.

“It is history, and history belongs to all Floridians,” Black stated. “We have started tearing down statues and memorials for all sorts of things. This is cancel culture. What we are trying to do is right the wrongs of cancel culture as they have been expressed against our public art.”

State Senator Jonathan Martin, a Republican from Fort Myers, introduced a related bill (SB 1122) on Thursday, specifying a retroactive date of October 1, 2020.

Critics contend that the decision on whether the monuments should be retained should be left to local elected officials and their constituents.

State Representative Angie Nixon, a Democrat from Jacksonville, argued that Confederate memorials were erected to “scare and intimidate the Black community post-slavery.”

“It’s horrible bill,” she declared. “It is meant to throw red meat at a base of voters at a time when they know it is an election year.”

Nixon expressed his views on Confederate memorials, stating, “We should not be honoring those who lost and aimed to keep my people enslaved.”

Black’s bill (HB 395), submitted in November, prevents local governments from taking down monuments or memorials. Offenders may face a fine of $5,000 or the expense of replacing the monument, whichever is greater. Elected officials who disregard the state law could be ousted by the governor.

If the Florida Historical Commission, the state historic preservation officer, and the director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs determine that contextual plaques offer “a more accurate understanding of the monument or memorial,” they may be inserted.

Florida's Controversial Proposal Restoring Confederate Statues in the Face of National Reckoning

Monuments may also be temporarily relocated to make way for building, but they must eventually be placed “as close as possible to the original location in a prominent place.”

“It is the intent of the Legislature that the state not allow a historical monument or memorial to be removed, damaged, or destroyed,” the bill stated. “Accurate history belongs to all Floridians in perpetuity.”

The bill preserves memorials commemorating “any armed conflict since settlers from other countries came to what is now the United States,” but it makes no mention of the Confederacy.

Following years of discussion, Democratic Mayor Donna Deegan of Jacksonville issued an order to remove the monument known as “Tribute to the Women of the Southern Confederacy,” which had been erected in Springfield Park since 1915. On Wednesday morning, workers demolished the memorial.

“Symbols matter. They tell the world what we stand for and what we aspire to be,” Deegan stated. “By removing the confederate monument from Springfield Park, we signal a belief in our shared humanity.”

In 2017, Orlando relocated a memorial honoring Confederate soldiers from Lake Eola Park to a designated section of Greenwood Cemetery for Confederate veterans. The 9-ton monument, featuring a concrete soldier referred to as “Johnny Reb,” was initially erected in 1911 on Main Street (now Magnolia Avenue) and later moved to the park in 1917.

Across Florida, Confederate memorials in Gainesville and Tampa were shifted from courthouse grounds to cemeteries. In 2020, former Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, ordered the removal of a century-old bronze statue depicting a Confederate soldier from the city’s downtown.

In recent years, the Florida Legislature has voted to eliminate symbols associated with the state’s Confederate history. In 2015, the Senate decided to remove the Confederate battle flag from its seal. Lawmakers also voted to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall with one of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.

Bethune’s statue, unveiled in 2022, marked a historic moment as the first state-commissioned statue of a Black person in Statuary Hall. Each state is represented by two statues.

Black’s bill includes a provision mandating that the statue of Kirby Smith be offered first to Bob Grenier, free of charge, for display in Lake County. Grenier, the former volunteer curator of the Lake County Historical Museum, advocated for showcasing the relic in the museum of the Historic Courthouse in Tavares.

If no suitable site in Lake County is identified by July 1, 2025, the state would seek an alternative location to display the statue for free, as outlined in the bill. Despite being born in St. Augustine, the Confederate commander spent little time in the state.

Governor Ron DeSantis has not indicated whether he would sign the bill protecting monuments. In November, he informed reporters that he was unfamiliar with the measure and would need to review it. A similar bill failed to gain traction in the 2023 legislative session.

As of January 2022, Florida had 77 Confederate memorials, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Whose Heritage?” project. The report indicates that 33 have been removed since 1880.

Lawmakers are set to begin their 60-day legislative session on January 9.

With more than two years of expertise in news and analysis, Eileen Stewart is a seasoned reporter. Eileen is a respected voice in this field, well-known for her sharp reporting and insightful analysis. Her writing covers a wide range of subjects, from politics to culture and more.