Veteran's Hall Of Fame Rekindles Fight Over Confederates

Jul 7, 2015

L-R Gov. Scott; Jane Collins, wife of the late Rear Adm. LeRoy Collins Jr,; Maj. Gen. Michael A. Calhoun; Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden; Chief Master Sgt. Eugene Cecil Johnson; Col. Harry Frank Farmer Jr.; Dept. of Veterans Affairs Director Mike Prendergrast; Sgt. Maj. Ray A. Quinn.
Credit Governor Rick Scott via Twitter

The Florida Veterans Hall of Fame honored five new members Monday, but not before an activist interrupted the gathering to call for confederate soldiers to be included.

The Confederate battle flag* has been controversial for years—igniting equally ardent claims of its connection to heritage and hatred.  But in recent weeks the debate has become heated.  The church shooting in Charleston is pushing South Carolina lawmakers to reevaluate the flag’s position at their Capitol.  In Tallahassee, unidentified activists hoisted one at city hall ahead of the July fourth weekend.  And Monday, David McAllister, who bills himself as a Commander in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, barged into the Florida Cabinet chambers, waving hand flags and yelling the state should honor confederate soldiers in its veteran’s hall of fame.

“All Florida’s veterans need to be remembered including those of a hundred and fifty years ago,” McAllister shouted.  “Along with the fine men and women that are being inducted today, they should be alongside you all.  Not thrown out on the steps, not thrown in the garbage heap of history.  They served Florida, the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame needs to induct them.”

The question of including confederate veterans has dogged the honor since its inception in 2011.  Critics chided an early draft list for its lack of sexual and racial diversity, as well as the inclusion of sitting Gov. Rick Scott and a number of confederates.  Tallahassee lawyer and civil rights activist Chuck Hobbs says we shouldn’t ignore the Confederacy, but it’s wrong to honor men who fought against the country.

“I think that they should be discussed in history books,” Hobbs says, “but I also think that when you’re talking about an honor, and placing someone in a veterans hall of fame is an honor, I think that it does a disservice to the many men and women who have served the United States of America to be enshrined shoulder-to-shoulder next to individuals who fought against the United States of America.

But speaking after the ceremony, Gov. Scott was noncommittal about whether confederate soldiers should be included.

“Well I, we’re going to continue to follow what the Legislature has passed,” Scott said, “so that’s something that the Legislature can always look at if they like.”

Throughout the process Scott has been similarly ambiguous. 

Hobbs, who is himself a Republican, says it’s disappointing the governor isn’t taking the lead on the issue.  He says governors like Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Robert Bentley in Alabama get it.

“Likewise fourteen years ago with our former Gov. Jeb Bush.  When the issue came up through executive order, he got it—remove the confederate flag to a museum, which is where I do believe such relics belong,” Hobbs says.  “But with respect to the current debate right now, I think that Gov. Scott is hedging somewhat much like many of the current Republican presidential contenders.”

In February, the Florida Department of Veterans affairs presented the Cabinet with five nominees.  They didn’t include David Lang, Samuel Pasco, and Edward A Perry—three confederate veterans originally sent to the Department for review.  Monday the five nominees were officially inducted.  They are the late Navy Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr., Army Major General James Lee Dozier, Army Colonel Harry Frank Farmer Jr., Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Eugene Cecil Johnson—the first enlisted man to be recognized, and Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lawrence F. Snowden.

CORRECTION: an earlier version of this story referred to the Confederate battle flag as "the stars and bars."  That appellation is reserved for the Confederate national flag.