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Joe Henderson: What kind of ‘heritage’ are Civil War monument supporters celebrating?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The argument made by supporters of Confederate monuments is based on the premise that the statues and markers preserve southern heritage.

I have heard that point repeated often by those folks and so have you. So, in the interest of moving the discussion forward, I ask a simple question: What is so great about the heritage that it’s worth creating a community-wide divide to preserve?

Let’s explore that.

By February 1861, seven southern states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy. The issue was over slavery, pure and simple. Slavery was a major part of the economic engine of southern agriculture.

By April of that year, Confederate ships began bombing Fort Sumter in South Carolina, where Union troops were running out of supplies. It was game on.

These events are historic and not in dispute. So, again I ask, what is so great about the actions of these southern renegade states more than 150 years ago that make it worth fighting to keep monuments on public property to commemorate a bloodbath that split the country apart?

At a campaign stop Monday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam tippy-toed around the issue of taking down the monuments when he said, “It’s far more important to eradicate hate today than it is to sanitize history.”

I’ll agree on the first point, but the thing about “sanitize” is where everything hangs up. It’s not “sanitizing” history for citizens to say using public property to celebrate a war to preserve slavery is a bad thing. Yes, soldiers who fought on either side should be remembered, but history shows these weren’t men marching gallantly off to war.

When volunteers didn’t come forth insufficient numbers after the war began, both sides instituted the first military drafts to fill their ranks. That was bitterly opposed in the South particularly, where eventually the draft took men from age 17 to 50, unless you could buy your way out of service.

Soldiers often went hungry, unpaid, and about 620,000 men overall died either in battle or from disease. Based on population, an equivalent war today in the United States would claim about 6 million lives.

Are supporters celebrating that heritage?

The Save Southern Heritage group compiled a list of more than 100 people who spoke in favor of removing a monument from downtown Tampa at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting last month. The list includes photos, addresses, phone numbers and labels.

Some are called “resentful black man.”  Others are “anti-Trump” or “LGBT” or “Black Lives Matter.”

The organization says it is merely identifying the motivations of those against the monument, but c’mon. It’s an attempt at intimidation, period. A disclaimer on the list saying the organization “assumes no responsibility” for damages arising from the list is nothing more than a dog whistle for hate.

There is a whole lot about the South and its heritage worth celebrating, and I’m not just talking about the weather. I grew up in Ohio but I’ve lived in Florida for more than 40 years. This is a great place with great people.

Build monuments to that.

That’s not what happens though. We get arguments about heritage. I’ve got a little news flash. A hundred years from now, people will look at the “heritage” of these days and wonder if some people hadn’t lost their freaking minds.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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