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St. John's: We'll Take Confederate Memorial

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Debate is underway at Pensacola City Hall, over the proposed removal of a Confederate monument from its current location. If it is removed, a local cemetery is ready to accept it.

St. John’s Cemetery on G Street could become the new home for the “Our Confederate Dead” monument, which was erected in 1891 at Robert E. Lee Square.

“When I spoke to the city about it, they thought it was a really exciting solution perhaps, but they still need to do a lot more research,” said Wesley Odom, President of the Friends of St. John’s Cemetery Foundation. “I think it would be a great place to be able to still have public access to the site.”

It would be appropriate, says Odom, because of the 80 or so confederate troops who are buried there, including three generals. One of the latter is Edward Aylesworth Perry, who later became Florida’s 14th governor.

Credit Florida Dept. of State
Edward A. Perry, Confederate General and 14th Governor of Florida.

“This statue might be positioned on the same row as where General Perry is buried,” Odom says. “There were 154 men who went off to war to fight for the Confederacy from Pensacola, and one in four never returned.”

An email has been sent from St. John’s Foundation President Pro Tem Charles Green to Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, requesting the monument be moved to St. John’s, citing its long history of inclusion and there is a multitude of citizens of diverse history and heritage.

Odom contends the statue was not raised as a symbol of hatred or racism.

“It was a war memorial; just like the Vietnam War Memorial, the Wall South [in Pensacola], or the World War I monument downtown, or World War II at Veterans Park,” said Odom. “Those were meant to commemorate the men who died, the men who served. And as a reminder that war is not the best alternative all the time; it really isn’t.”

So far, there’s no word from City Hall on the Foundation’s request. The moving and dismantling of Confederate memorials around the country, in 31 states, to be exact, is drawing fire from a number of angles.

“The Civil War, more than anything else, defined America. And it defined in many regards who we are as a people,” said Dr. Derek Zumbro, a military historian at the University of West Florida. In a 2015 interview, he said the Civil War still resonates, especially in the South.

Credit Sandra Averhart, WUWF Public Media
Confederate Monument, Lee Park Pensacola

“And needless to say for the South, in an odd sort of way, it defined the people’s willingness to sacrifice for an ideal, regardless of how you interpret that ideal,” Zumbro said.  

One of those ideals was slavery, but Zumbro says there were others as well.

“On the other side, it’s interpreted as an ideal for standing up for your individual freedoms – what you feel is right,” said Zumbro. “And the South certainly felt it was oppressed by the North during that conflict. And I think that’s one of the things that continues to keep that spirit alive.”

Wesley Odom believes that there are some in 2017 who are painting all Civil War monuments and Confederate leaders with the same broad brush, and considering anyone back then who had any contact with slavery “bad people.”

“That’s just an unfortunate misrepresentation, I think, that we’ve got to be careful for what by you do that,” Odom said. “It’s a weird situation right now and I think that, in Pensacola’s case, it would probably do us well if we not react emotionally to what is going on in some cities around the country, but really do some soul-searching.”

In his email to the city, Charles Green said the St. John’s Foundation is embarking on a program to convert the cemetery to an outdoor museum, using a grant from Pensacola-based service group IMPACT 100. The monument, he says, would have a suitable surrounding.