One day after the Pensacola City Council voted to remove the Confederate monument from Lee Square and relocate it, Mayor Grover Robinson discussed the statue’s future and its place in the city during his Wednesday chat on Facebook.
“As we go forward we have a proud, rich history; as many people have said, we’re not looking to erase any history, but we may be able to relocate and retell it in a different way,” said the mayor. “Not that we’re going to quit telling anybody’s history, but we’re going to tell everybody’s history.”
On a 6-1 vote late Tuesday night, the council approved the monument’s relocation to a site to be determined. The panel also voted unanimously to change the square’s name back to its original name, Florida Square, in time for the state’s bicentennial next year. What happens next, says the mayor, is up in the air for now.
“We have looked at a couple of things, but we haven’t had the chance to talk more in-depth,” said Robinson. “St. John’s Cemetery had come to us, and said they thought it was appropriate [to locate there] because of the Confederate dead that are buried there. We’ve also looked [at] many people have talked about it being in a museum, where their history could be told more inclusively with everything else and in the proper format.”
The mayor repeated his promise to handle the 129-year-old monument with respect – and that handling is expected to provide some new challenges over what could be a long period of time.
“It is an old structure; some things can be moved easily, some things are going to need contractors who have expertise in that,” said Robinson. “Right now, we’re not the only city in the Southeast that is dealing with this; there are very few of these contractors and there’s a significant amount of work. It may take some time to do the whole thing, but there’s some things we can do in the short term, and we’re going to be looking to do those.”
Along with St. John’s Cemetery, another discussion underway is with the University of West Florida Historic Trust. And there’s the matter of paying for the relocation. Among the figures that have been bandied about is a range roughly from $120,000, to about $330,000.
“At this point we’re still working on pricing and figuring out what we’ve got; the city is potentially a [funding] source, but you never know what may happen, one way or the other if something happens,” said the mayor. “I know other communities where that has happened stepped up. At this point, the city certainly sees it as our asset and our obligation.”
A number of projects to tell Pensacola’s story in an inclusive way are on the table, according to the mayor, involving the Confederacy and four other groups with local historical ties.
“Our ancestors who came from freed slaves; our ancestors who fought for the Union, our ancestors who were immigrants, and our ancestors who are indigenous people,” Robinson said. “I believe all five of those have a part of the story we’re going to tell. And I think we’ve got to find a way to tell it inclusively. If you’re a citizen of the city of Pensacola, you are 100% citizen.”
Shifting gears, Mayor Robinson says the city’s main goal now is getting through the COVID-19 pandemic while staying as safe as possible – so businesses can reopen successfully.
“We showed in May, in early June, that we can do this if we do it correctly,” said Robinson. “Wearing masks, washing our hands [and] staying socially distance. We can be open and we can do those things. That’s been my goal all along – how do we avoid closures. I ask you to help us.”
One comment posted on the mayor’s Facebook page accused Gov. Ron DeSantis of virtually ignoring the Florida Panhandle in favor of areas downstate – despite figures showing Pensacola and Miami equally hit hard by the coronavirus. Robinson disagrees.
“I think our governor has tried to help us here in Northwest Florida as much as possible,” the mayor said. “He’s certainly been here, he’s visited here and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with him. He’s got a big state; some of the state is not having an impact, some of the state is having a very significant impacts.”
The mayor did announce that the state Health Department is deploying about 30 newly-trained contact tracers to Northwest Florida to help monitor the virus.