Manatee County voters will decide confederate statue's fate

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The Manatee County Commission is sending the decision on a Confederate monument to the voters.

Amid a string of emotional protests in 2017, they removed the 22-foot, put in place in 1924 by the Daughters of Confederate Veterans, from in front of the courthouse to an undisclosed location. But during its removal, it broke in half.

Since then, the statue's fate has remained uncertain, but the commission says a ballot referendum will decide the issue, once and for all.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy called the controversy deeply painful to African Americans, many of whom see Confederate monuments as representative of racial domination.

"We have emotions. We have passions. We have history," said Bellamy. "If you take any other topic, that is going to create some problems."

The divisiveness is so significant, commissioners rejected a list of nine county-owned sites where the statue could possibly stay.

Several argued those who fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy deserved recognition.

"I wouldn't be here had it not been for some of them that fought in that war," said commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "I had three ancestors fight in that war. I am proud of them. None of them ever owned a slave."

In a 7-0 vote, the commission asked county staff to come back with a resolution so they can nominate a nine-member panel that will put three locations on the ballot in November of 2020. Four of the nine will be African American.

The commission also wants an education campaign to go along with it.

"I don't want to have anybody's blood on my hands because of this," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore. "Many people died because of the war. On both sides. I want to make the right decision for the citizens. If they want to vote. I have no problems."

The decision to put the referendum off until the same time as the 2020 presidential election was done to minimize the cost of holding the vote.

County officials believe the committee will take shape within the next six weeks.