Florida Bill Proposes Reinstating Confederate Statues as Cities Remove Memorials


As part of a national effort to get rid of public memorials that honor the Confederacy, Confederate monuments have been taken down in Orlando, Tampa, and most recently Jacksonville.

What if, though, a bill becomes law next year? If local leaders take down those statues, they could be fined or even fired.

The bill is being pushed by State Rep. Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, to protect monuments, such as memorials to the Confederacy, and punish city officials who take them down. He said that his bill goes back in time and wants to bring back statues that were taken down by local governments after January 1, 2017.

Black said, “It’s history, and all Floridians own history.” Statues and markers for all sorts of things have been taken down. This is an end to society. The things we’re trying to do are make up for the bad things cancel culture has said about our public art.

On Thursday, State Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, filed a bill that goes along with it (SB 1122), but it goes back in time to October 1, 2020.

People who are against the monuments say that local leaders and the people who vote for them should decide if the statues stay up.

To “scare and intimidate the Black community post-slavery,” said state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, Confederate monuments were built.

She said, “That bill is awful.” “It’s meant to appeal to a base of voters during an election year.”

Nixon also said this about the Confederate memorials: “We shouldn’t honor losers who wanted to keep my people as slaves.”

Black’s bill (HB 395), which was introduced in November, says that local governments can’t take down statues or memorials. People who break the law would be fined $5,000 or as much as it costs to replace the statue, whichever is greater. The governor could remove elected leaders from office if they break the law.

Contextual plaques can be added if the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the state historic preservation officer, and the Florida Historical Commission all agree that they give people “a more accurate understanding of the monument or memorial.” It is also possible to move monuments temporarily for building work, but they have to be put back where they belong or “as close as possible to the original location in a prominent place.”

One of the goals of the Legislature is for the state to not let a historical monument or memorial be taken down, damaged, or killed, the bill says. “Accurate history will always belong to all Floridians.”

Even though the bill doesn’t mention the Confederacy by name, it does protect memorials for “any armed conflict since settlers from other countries came to what is now the United States.”

The “Tribute to the Women of the Southern Confederacy” monument had been in Jacksonville’s Springfield Park since 1915. After years of discussion, Democratic Mayor Donna Deegan ordered that it be taken down. It was taken down early Wednesday morning by crews.

“Icons are important. “They show the world what we believe in and what we want to be,” Deegan said in a statement. “Removing the Confederate monument from Springfield Park shows that we believe we are all human.”

Orlando took down and moved a memorial to dead Confederate soldiers from Lake Eola Park to a section of Greenwood Cemetery set aside for them in 2017. The “Johnny Reb” memorial, which is 9 tons and has a concrete soldier on top, was built in 1911 on Main Street, which is now Magnolia Avenue. In 1917, it was moved to the park.

In other parts of Florida, cemeteries were used to move Confederate monuments from the grounds of the courthouses in Gainesville and Tampa. In 2020, former Republican Mayor of Jacksonville Lenny Curry ordered that a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier be taken down from the center area of the city. The statue had been there for more than one hundred years.

In the past few years, the Florida Legislature has also moved to get rid of reminders of the state’s Confederate past. They agreed in 2015 to take the Confederate battle flag off the seal. A figure of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was taken down and replaced in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall with a statue of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.

The statue of Bethune was revealed in 2022. She was the first Black person in history to have a statue commissioned by the state in Statutory Hall. There are two figures for each state.

Black’s bill has a part that says the state must give the statue of Kirby Smith to Bob Grenier first so that he can put it on show in Lake County for free. Grenier pushed for the artifact to be shown in the museum on the first floor of the Historic Courthouse in Tavares. She used to work as a curator at the Lake County Historical Museum.

The bill says that if a good spot in Lake County isn’t found by July 1, 2025, the state will find another place to put the statue up for free. He was born in St. Augustine and never spent much time in other parts of Florida.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t said if he will sign the bill to protect landmarks or not. He told reporters in November that he didn’t know much about the bill and would need to look it over. During the 2023 parliamentary session, a similar bill did not make it through.

After 158 years, the Civil War was still in the news this week, and not just because the Jacksonville statue was taken down. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is running against DeSantis for president, was heavily criticized by his campaign for not bringing up slavery when she was asked Thursday about what caused the war.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Whose Heritage?” project says that as of January 2022, Florida had 77 monuments to the Confederacy. According to the study, 33 have been taken away since 1880.

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