Hillsborough County to keep Confederate monument

- After several hours of contentious debate, Hillsborough County commissioners narrowly voted to keep a Confederate memorial in place – but add a "diversity mural" behind it.

Commissioners were considering the fate of a statue that has stood at the front of the old courthouse in downtown Tampa since 1911.

Members of the community were also there to represent the two sides of the debate. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the monument represents a part of history that should be recognized.

 “This is a monument to our veterans and history,” Sons of Confederate Veterans member Phil Walters said. “How can future generations learn history if you're taking it down?”

Commissioner Les Miller, who represents the northern and eastern neighborhoods of Tampa, agreed the has an importance but offered it should be displayed by an organization focused on Confederate history and not on county property.

“It depicts a part of history – and I’m not trying to erase history – where they tried to keep African Americans, black people, in bondage. It should never have been put there,” he told FOX 13. “The objective today is to make a motion to give it back to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and let them decide what they want to do with it.”

Members of the Black Lives Matter movement said, for them, keeping the monument sends a clear message. 

 “It tells me that black lives don't matter in Tampa, don't matter in this county,” said Black Lives Matter, Tampa representative Jae Passmor. “[They don’t] matter in this state.”

Commission chambers were packed all morning as citizens lined up to voice their opinion. Several people brought signs saying “Americans build monuments, we don’t remove them,” but FOX 13’s Evan Lambert reported there was a fairly even split of opinion among the speakers.

After Commissioner Miller made his motion to remove the statue, Commissioner Stacy White, who represents eastern Hillsborough County, filed a motion to keep the monument in place and draft a new ordinance to protect monuments like it.

"This is clearly a war monument that recognizes the military," he offered.

Commissioner Victor Crist then suggested leaving the statue in place but adding a diversity mural behind it. That's ultimately what the commission voted to do, by a four-to-three vote.

Meanwhile, the city of Orlando just wrapped up a similar debate.  Yesterday, crews began disassembling and moving a Confederate statue called "Johnny Reb."

That statue had stood in the heart of downtown Orlando since 1911.  Now it's going to a nearby cemetery at a cost of around $120,000.

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