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Will Confederate statue return to downtown Bradenton?

By AP | Jan 16, 2023

By RYAN CALLIHAN, The Bradenton Herald

BRADENTON (AP) — Manatee County officials could soon decide whether to restore and replace the Confederate monument that stood for decades outside the historic courthouse in downtown Bradenton.

The Board of County Commissioners briefly debated the issue in a public workshop meeting last week following suggestions from three residents who want to see the monument returned. Previous officials voted to remove the monument in August 2017 following a protest .

“I think it’s our opportunity to bring back a part of our history that is a crucial part of Manatee County history,” said Jack May, president of the Manatee Patriots, a group of conservative Republicans.

Most commissioners said they supported the request to revisit the Confederate monument . Commissioners Amanda Ballard and George Kruse did not agree with the idea.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, the only commissioner who remains in office after the 2017 vote to remove the monument , was the first to weigh in on the topic.

“I don’t like ignoring our history. It is what it is. Some things about it are good, some things aren’t, but it’s our history,” said Baugh, who voted against taking the monument down. “We shouldn’t be changing our history.”

But Kruse pushed back on the idea, suggesting that because the monument has already been removed, putting it back up would “start a firestorm.”

“It’s one thing to be a community that takes it down or leaves it up, but it’s another thing to put one up,” Kruse argued. “I’m sorry, but you’re not going to get my vote to put that thing back up. I just think you’re starting a war. It doesn’t make sense.”

In 2017, following a wave of backlash against the public display of Confederate officials and their beliefs, board members voted to cover the monument with sheets of wood before relocating it. As workers attempted to move the monument in the middle of the night, the obelisk fell and broke into two pieces.

The 22-foot-tall statue remains broken and in storage. Before it is displayed anywhere, it would need to be repaired. In 2019, the estimate for that repair was about $40,000.

County Administrator Scott Hopes said he has researched the issue and found that the board should decide where it will go before it is repaired.

“The recommendation is that it be restored and refurbished on site — the site where it’s going to rest,” Hopes explained. “So, if that is the goal, we have a strategy to fill that goal of the board.”

The history of Manatee’s Confederate monument

According to local archives from the Civil War era, 59 Confederate and six Union soldiers lived in Manatee County at the time.

Nearly 60 years after the Civil War ended, the Judah P. Benjamin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to install the monument outside the courthouse in 1924.

The statue was erected during the nation’s Jim Crow era , which saw local, state and federal laws that put restrictions on the daily lives of Black Americans. These rules made it difficult for them to vote and created the segregation system that did not end until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While supporters contest that the statue ensures that a dark period in the country’s history will not be forgotten or repeated, some historians argue that the early 1900s push to install Confederate memorials served as a visual reminder of the country’s then-racial hierarchy.

“These veterans are being used as a signal to segregation and the connection to that is white supremacy,” Stephanie McCurry, an author and historian who studies the Civil War, previously told the Bradenton Herald.

More than a century later, Black residents still link the memorial with a painful history.

“I believe that monument represents a past that is not reflective of how the community wants to be seen today,” said Luther Wilkins, president of the Manatee NAACP. “To other people, it would be a war that was fought for a family’s livelihood and way of life, but to us, it’s a bitter past. It’s a hurtful past.”

“There’s no joy we find in the Confederate flag or any statue that represents that time,” Wilkins added.

The names of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and a Confederate flag are etched into each side of the memorial’s base. The monument does not make reference to the Union.

What happens next?

Any decision on what will happen to the statute will be determined by a vote by the Manatee County Commission.

Commissioners have not yet scheduled a discussion about the future of the Confederate monument will be discussed during a public meeting.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press.