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Mayor: Confederate Monument 'Does Not Reflect Current Values'

Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media

After receiving a staff report on the future of the Confederate monument in Lee Square, its future will be somewhere else, if Mayor Grover Robinson gets his way.

After reviewing the 17-page report from staff, Robinson sent a letter to the City Council recommending the removal of the monument from the park. He contends it does not “reflect our current values,” and “does not strive to create a more inclusive city.”

“I understand why the staff made the decisions they did and the comments they did and what was there,” said the mayor. “I appreciate the time and effort that was put into it. That report was not something that we went into lightly.”

In June, the City Council began talks on what to do with the monument, which was put up in 1891 – 30 years after the Civil War and in the midst of the Jim Crow era. Many historians contend that statue, and others around the country, were aimed at intimidating African-Americans rather than honoring Confederate war dead. The council votes on whether to remove it next week.

Speaking on Facebook Wednesday, Robinson added that removing the statue from the park would “achieve a stronger and more unified community.”

“I certainly well understand the history of the monument and the history that is there; but I believe we need to be doing a better job of telling our story inclusively,” said Robinson. “And representing all of the people here in the city of Pensacola. My hope was that something could have been done equitably.”

The ball is now in the City Council’s court. It meets Tuesday to hear public comment and afterward, could decide the next resting ground for the structure. Those wishing to speak via telephone during the meeting need to contact City Hall.

“Their submissions can be accepted between 12 and 5:15 [p.m.] on the 14th; those requesting to speak will be called on the telephone number, and you’ll have two minutes to speak,” the mayor said.

Even Robinson’s ancestors have not escaped scrutiny in the monument issue. His grandfather was an attorney who represented minority clients, and his family tree has been traced back to the Civil War.

“I’ve been very clear; I certainly had family that fought for the Confederacy, but I’ve also had family that fought for civil rights,” said Robinson. “Certainly my time with the [Escambia County Commission] and my time [as mayor] has been very focused on how we find ways to work together. My story is a story, but it’s one story. And we’ve got to be better at telling the entire story of what we have as a community.”

According to the report, there are a number of alternatives where the monument could be relocated. Perhaps the highest-profile is St. John’s Cemetery, the final resting place for a number of Confederate soldiers.

“The location that we proposed for the statue should be at the cemetery – there are a series of roundabouts in the middle of the cemetery,” said St. John’s Foundation President Eric Stevenson. “And we have proposed putting it in the 1st roundabout in the older section of the cemetery.”

This is not the first attempt to lure the monument to St. John’s.

“I actually talked with the mayor; he asked if the offer that we had made back in 2017 was still available – I told him it was,” said Stevenson. “We’re not taking a position one way or the other, as a cemetery, on whether it should be taken down. But we did think that if they were looking for a place to put it, that the cemetery would be an appropriate place.”

Whatever happens to the statue, Mayor Grover Robinson is insisting that one ground rule be followed.

“We will be respectful in what we do,” he said. “You may have seen other communities just tear down with a wrecking ball or do something else; this is not what we’re doing. The vote may happen, they may decide to take something down but we’re going to be respectful, whatever we’ve done.”

One of the sticking points to replacing the monument with a more inclusive structure is cost. That would be determined by the final design, but the current figure being thrown around is in the neighborhood of $10 million.