- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - If enough money isn’t raised by private citizens to move a Confederate monument in Florida to a private cemetery it will remain on public property, officials decided Wednesday, casting doubt on an earlier vote to remove it.

The Hillsborough County Commission’s vote came just days after a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The commission voted last month to remove the 106-year-old monument. Wednesday’s 4-2 decision means the county will not remove the Confederate monument in Tampa unless private funds can be raised in 30 days.

“I believe the statue is going to be moved,” said Commissioner Victor Crist, who was not present for last month’s vote and asked commissioners to revisit the decision to move it. “I understand the sensitivity of the issue and the necessity of relocating it. I think the taxpayers should not be on the hook for the cost.”

So far, about $11,800 has been raised toward the cost of moving the statue. Officials estimate it will cost a total of about $280,000 to move it, with half of that paid by private funds.

“I think within the 30-day window some valiant, deep pocket in our community is going to step forward and be the hero,” said Crist.

But Commissioner Les Miller, who proposed relocating the statue months ago and is adamant that it should be moved off public property, said he has doubts - and he’s worried that some who want the monument moved will be incensed.

“I will be highly surprised if we are able to raise those dollars in 30 days,” he said. “I would hope that we don’t have a Charlottesville, Virginia, in Hillsborough County. I pray that we don’t. We had it moved, and we came back and played politics.”

The discussion unfolded as cities across the nation are re-evaluating Confederate statues on public property. Wednesday’s emotional meeting reflected strong feelings on both sides about the issue, and about the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Many speakers said they don’t want what happened in Virginia to happen in Tampa. Others expressed concern that commissioners would renege on their decision to move the memorial to a private cemetery. One woman showed photos of a private Confederate memorial near Tampa that was defaced with red paint this past weekend, and she wept as she spoke.

Another resident said President Donald Trump was correct when he asked whether people would eventually want monuments of other historical figures removed - George Washington, for instance, because he owned slaves.

“President Trump had it right last night when he said, where does it end?” said Andy Strickland.

His comment was met with groans from many in the audience.

Advocates of Southern heritage say removing these symbols is a disservice to the men who fought in the Civil War.

Called ‘Memoria In Aeterna,’ the Tampa monument sits outside of a courthouse administrative building and depicts two Confederate soldiers. One faces north. The other facing south and plods along, battered, weary and tattered.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans are standing guard over the monument to prevent any unexpected efforts to remove it. The monument is across the street from where Wednesday’s meeting was held.

“I have biracial grandchildren and yet these people sit here and call me white supremacist,” said Donny McCurry of Riverview, Florida, a suburb of Tampa. “They call me a bigot. Bigotry is not allowed, says everyone in this room, unless it’s toward the man guarding that monument over there. I’m no white supremacist.”

McCurry, like others who don’t want the monument removed, urged commissioners to put the issue to a countywide vote.

But Connie Burton of Tampa said commissioners should stand by their vote and remove the statue once and for all.

“If you choose to keep it, we have to tell the whole story, the story of lynching, slavery, raping, robbing, stolen labor,” she said, holding up an oversized prop of shackles and a chain. “That’s your history. Can you be proud of that? If you continue to hole up in your heritage and support the long history of pain, then that shows your weakness. We want this county to move forward. We have a right to make sure that everybody can live in peace. Remove the pain so that that we don’t have these symbols of hate.”

There have been numerous meetings and hearings regarding the Tampa monument, which sits in the city but is controlled by the county because it’s on county property. In June, commissioners voted 4-3 against moving the monument. In July, the commission voted 4-2 to remove it.


Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at https://twitter.com/tamaralush

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