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Debate Over Removal Of Pensacola's Confederate Monument Heats Up

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

After the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over removal of a Confederate monument, efforts to remove a Confederate memorial in downtown Pensacola are gaining steam.

Pensacola’s Confederate monument is located at Lee Square on Palafox Street, downtown. It was dedicated back in 1891, more than a quarter-century (26 years) after the Civil War.

Now, thanks to 19-year-old college student Eva Ernst, who grew up in Pensacola, whether or not should be removed has become a hot topic locally. She got the notion after stopping there during a Charlottesville solidarity event downtown.

“I was reminded of its presence and decided, you know, I need to do as much as I can at this time to make symbolic strides against racism, so I might as well get involved in the most direct way possible,” said Ernst. “And, I had no idea it was going to blow up like this.”

It has blown up since Ernst started a petition on Change.org calling on Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward to remove the Confederate monument at Lee Square.

“The whole point of forming a petition was to start a conversation about it and go through our local government and our community about it; not to tear it down like they did in Durham,” Ernst said.

In the days following Charlottesville, Mayor Hayward released a statement deploring the violence there, while also condemning white supremacists, Neo-Nazis and all other hate groups. He later went on the record saying he supports removal of Pensacola’s Confederate memorial.

”We don’t want to marginalize anyone in our community, but what we do want to do is stand up against hate and bigotry because we don’t support that and we don’t stand for that.” Hayward said on WEAR TV.

“The Lee Square Confederate Monument is a symbol of hate,” said Pensacola City Council member Larry B. Johnson, one of two council members who support the Mayor’s call for the monument to go.

“It is hurtful to so many people in our community, including me, that I just think it’s time - as this movement is happening all over the United States - that we, too, here in Pensacola, remove that symbol of hate.”

Councilman Johnson says he directed the Council Executive to look into the process. Meantime, he suggested that an alternative location could be some type of museum or other place highlighting history.

And, it now appears that city leaders have been presented with a viable option.

“No one would like for the monument to be moved, but if it is moved, we would certainly welcome it with open arms at St. John’s Cemetery,” said Wesley Odom, President of the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery Foundation.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Memorial to "Our Confederate Dead" at Lee Square in downtown Pensacola. The debate over removal is heating up.

The historic cemetery, located on N. “G” Street in Pensacola, has about 80 Civil War burials. And, the inscription “Our Confederate Dead” is denoted on the Lee Square memorial.

“Pensacola’s monument is really unique compared to all others, because it’s a city monument that commemorates those one in four people that did not return to Pensacola after the war,” Odom said.

Not so fast, says Pensacola resident Dorrian Vance. She’s co-founder of the heritage group “Southern Strong” and thinks a vote of the people should decide the matter.

“I’ve been fighting for a long time to make sure our monuments, our flags, they still stand, they’re still kept,” said Vance, who also fought unsuccessfully to prevent removal of the Confederate flag from government property.

In response to the original petition to remove the Lee Square monument, Vance started her own Change.org petition to “Keep All Confederate Memorials in Pensacola.” It netted nearly 5,000 supporters in a couple of days.

She hopes that other elected city officials and prominent people in Pensacola will step up to keep the monument in place.

“Obviously Matt Gaetz does not want to see it removed,” Vance said. “I hope all of them and their influence can stop Hayward, but I have no doubt he’s going to do whatever he can to take it down.”

Such reaction prompted Mayor Hayward to issue a statement late Friday afternoon clarifying that he does not have sole authority to remove the monument and noted that there’s a process to be followed.

In addition, Hayward suggested that he and his colleagues at City Hall would be wise to adhere to an existing City Council policy addressing the protection and preservation of the City’s historical resources.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.