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Leon County Mulls Pathways To Removing, Or Relocating, Capitol Lawn’s Confederate Monument

Tom Flanigan

The Leon County Commission is pressing the issue of ownership of the Confederate monument on the Historic Capitol lawn, in an effort to remove it. But, complicating any potential move on that front, who has final say on removing or relocating the monument has long been in question.

Commissioner Bill Proctor wants to remove the monument from the Capitol grounds. But to make that call on its own, the county has to claim ownership of it.

“Commissioners, I am proposing that this statute over there belongs to Leon County’s government,” Proctor told his peers at the commission’s most recent meeting.

To Proctor, its existence on the Historic Capitol lawn is an affront to the many descendants of enslaved people.

“Why would anybody in this county feel proud to have a statue that, out of 67 counties, we are the only county that has a statue with a tribute to the confederacy, when you know what it means, when they we fighting a war against the United States,” Proctor asked.

The County Commission has sent letters to various state government officials on the topic, including Governor Ron DeSantis and outgoing Senate president Bill Galvano, both Republicans.

Commissioner Kristin Dozier says that has yet to yield a meaningful response.

“That’s exactly why I wanted to see if we could reach out to the DeSantis administration and get any different answer than we got several years ago from the Scott administration,” Dozier said during the meeting Tuesday. “Obviously we haven’t.”

The Associated Press reported in 2017, during a previous dust-up about the monument, that the Florida Legislature controls the Historic Capitol and its grounds. That includes the Historic Capitol museum. But state and local officials have played virtual hot potato on who might be responsible for removing it, or denying requests for its removal.

Dozier says simply sending crews on behalf of the county to topple the monument might not be the best play.

“I don’t think we’re in a position to go and take the statue from state property right now,” Dozier told the commission.

Prominent progressive political consultant Kevin Cate says it ultimately falls under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ purview. Kate spoke with WFSU following an op-ed he authored in June in support of having the monument removed.

“One of the most frustrating parts about this is the previous administration, Rick Scott, kind of feigned interest in taking it down,” Cate said. “Lawmakers feigned interest in taking it down, and they kind of got caught in a limbo of, whose job is it to take it down? Ultimately, it’s the Florida governor’s job.”

Cate says if the governor won’t remove the monument, it would become a job for the Florida Cabinet.

Bob Holladay is president of the Tallahassee Historical Society and a professor of American history at Tallahassee Community College. Holladay says his organization hasn’t taken a position on what to do with the monument. He spoke to the commission during its discussion to fill in some of the monument’s history.

“When the monument was delivered to Tallahassee from Philadelphia in 1882, two locations were suggested for it,” Holladay explained, “Washington Square, or the old City cemetery, where Tallahassee’s Confederate dead are buried.”

It was, instead, placed outside of the Old Capitol building, seen by passersby at the intersection of Apalachee Parkway and Monroe Street.

Holladay says the Old City Cemetery site might be a suitable place for its relocation, if the County can claim ownership:

“It makes sense that the cemetery was one of the options, because if you look at the monument it’s clearly a grave marker. There’s nothing celebratory about it, there’s not a statue on top, nowhere are the words ‘Confederate’ or ‘lost cause.’”

Holladay also pointed out that there are factual inaccuracies on the monument. Cate detailed some of them:

“That memorial was not put up for history, because the history is inaccurate: Among other things, it puts Gettysburg in Virginia and makes up three Florida battles that didn’t really happen in a way that should be glorified by anyone. It was put up as a sort of symbol, a sort of weapon against minorities in our state, and I think the time is long past due for us to bring it down,” Cate said in June.

With a question mark still on the most effective pathway for claiming possession of the monument, the Commission is drafting new letters to state leaders. Proctor proposed it be more strongly worded this time around.

“My substitute motion is that we simply send a letter to ask the previous parties, do they have any objections at all to Leon County removing those statues, per our board of commissioners’ request,” Proctor told his peers, who supported the idea.

The Commission will also consider going the legislative route – either working to get legislation filed for the monument’s removal or issuing a resolution to the legislature requesting relocation.