Florida Lawmakers Propose Bill to Restore Confederate Monuments and Penalize Cities That Took Them Down


Confederate statues have been destroyed in Orlando, Tampa, and most recently Jacksonville as part of a national movement to remove Confederate relics from public spaces.

However, if a measure passes into law the next year, removing those monuments might result in fines or possibly the removal of municipal officials.

The bill, which would safeguard monuments, including Confederate memorials, and penalize municipal authorities who destroy them, is being pushed by state representative Dean Black, a Republican from Jacksonville. He said that his measure, which aims to restore monuments that municipal governments destroyed after January 1, 2017, is retroactive.

Black declared, “It is history, and history is Florida’s.” “We have begun demolishing monuments and statues honoring a variety of subjects. This is the culture of cancellation. Our goal is to correct the wrongs caused by cancel culture, which has been voiced negatively against our public artwork.

Companion legislation (SB 1122), with a different retroactive date of October 1, 2020, was introduced on Thursday by state senator Jonathan Martin, a Republican from Fort Myers.

The remaining monuments should be decided upon by local elected officials and their residents, according to opponents.

Representative Angie Nixon of Jacksonville, a Democrat, stated that the purpose of the Confederate statues was to “scare and intimidate the Black community post-slavery”.

Florida Lawmakers Propose Bill to Restore Confederate Monuments and Penalize Cities That Took Them Down

She called the bill “horrible.” “It is intended to serve as a warning to a base of voters that this is an election year.”

Nixon continued, saying, “We should not be uplifting losers who wanted to keep my people enslaved,” about the Confederate statues.

Black’s November plan (HB 395) forbids municipal governments from demolishing monuments or memorials. Infringers would face a $5,000 fine or, in the event of a monument replacement, the cost of replacement. The governor has the authority to remove elected politicians from office for breaking state law.

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

The measure says, “The Legislature intends that the state not permit the removal, damage, or destruction of a historical monument or memorial.” “True history is forever the property of all Floridians.”

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 monument.

Symbols are important. They convey to the world our values and our aspirations,” Deegan said in a statement. “By taking down the Confederate monument in Springfield Park, we are demonstrating our belief in humanity.”

A memorial to dead Confederate soldiers was taken down and relocated from Lake Eola Park to an area of Greenwood Cemetery reserved for Confederate troops by Orlando in 2017. In 1911, a concrete soldier known as “Johnny Reb” stood atop a 9-ton monument on Main Street, which is now Magnolia Avenue. The monument was transported to the park in 1917.

Confederate memorials were relocated from courthouse grounds to cemeteries in Gainesville and Tampa, among other places in Florida. 2020 saw the removal of a bronze monument of a Confederate soldier that had been in Jacksonville’s downtown for more than a century, under an order by former Republican mayor Lenny Curry.

In recent years, the Florida Legislature has also decided to eliminate reminders of the state’s Confederate heritage. The Senate decided to remove the Confederate battle flag from its seal in 2015. Legislators decided to erect a statue commemorating civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol instead of the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith.

Being the first Black person to receive a state-commissioned statue at Statutory Hall, Bethune’s statue was unveiled in 2022. There are two statutes for each state.

A clause in Black’s bill mandates that state officials give Bob Grenier priority consideration for the free display of the Kirby Smith monument in Lake County. Grenier, a former volunteer curator of the Lake County Historical Museum, championed a plan to display the item at the Tavares Historic Courthouse’s first-floor museum.

The measure states that the state will locate another spot to display the monument for free if a suitable site in Lake County isn’t discovered by July 1, 2025. Though he was born in St. Augustine, the Confederate leader did not spend much time in the state.

Regarding his decision to approve the monument protection measure, Governor Ron DeSantis has remained silent. He told reporters in November that he would need to evaluate the proposal since he was unfamiliar with it. In 2023, a bill with a similar purpose was not successful in passing the legislature.

This week, 158 years after the Civil War ended, the conflict made news again with the demolition of the Jacksonville monument.

When pressed on Thursday about the reason behind the conflict, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, the Republican opponent of DeSantis, received harsh criticism from his presidential campaign for omitting to bring up slavery.

Florida contained 77 Confederate memorials as of January 2022, according to the “Whose Heritage?” study by The Southern Poverty Law Center. The study states that thirty-three have been eliminated since 1880.

On January 9, lawmakers will begin their 60-day legislative session.

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