What’s in a monument? Dealing with Alachua County’s statue commemorating the Confederate war dead

by Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson

Alachua County has had a memorial commemorating the Confederate war dead since 1904 when it was erected by the Kirby Smith Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

At the time it was put up, many of these Daughters were actually the daughters of fathers who did not return from the Civil War just 39 years earlier. As anybody who has been to other battlegrounds can attest, our monument is very much in keeping with those found by the hundreds that were erected around the nation during this era. Indeed, our monument is on the site of one skirmish in that terrible war.

How we as a community, and ultimately the Alachua County Commission, decide to handle this symbol is important.

What strikes me about the monument is that the soldier seems like the least part of it—he is not an identifiable person, and is at such a height that you are always seeing him in silhouette against the sky where so many details are lost.

What is in your face are the inscriptions on the plinth, and they bother me the most. The first, is that the “The Confederate Dead.” In 1904, we were a united country. Many soldiers from the Union side also died in Florida, including a few in Alachua County, and purposefully ignoring them seems unchivalrous.

The second inscription says: “They fell for us, and for them should fall the tears of a nation’s grief.” This phrase also bothers me, as the “us” they fell for was not all of the people of Alachua County. The “nation” they ask to grieve has been left purposefully ambiguous: is this the Confederate nation, or the United States that should be shedding tears?

The third inscription is: “They counted the cost and in defence of right they paid the martyr’s price.” The first four words are inaccurate (they obviously did not “count the cost” for enslaved people). The next five words (“and in defence of right”) are not only wrong, they are offensive. And the last five words (“they paid the martyr’s price”) compares the fatal outcome of the soldiers’ involvement to a sacred mission. While some may have felt this, a major goal of secession was to retain slavery which should not be considered sacred in 1904 or 2015.

Like many issues, there will be people arguing passionately for a variety of positions, including complete removal of the statue or for leaving it alone. One possibility is that the statue could be moved to the Matheson Historical Society’s park about five blocks east, where it might become one of many sculptures depicting the history of Alachua County. Included on other statues might be depictions of people or symbols of events that are important to our history, such as William Bartram, Osceola, Josiah Walls, General Edmund Gaines, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Bo Diddley, and others.

Deciding whether to change the location of this symbol may seem like an important decision facing the County Commission, but it pales in comparison to the difficult issues that confronting racism and discrimination pose every day.

Some may wish for, or benefit from, a protracted argument about this, but I hope we discuss the fate of the monument in the context of how symbolic decisions can mask or over-simplify the really tough issues that we must grapple with as a community.

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