BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Across the nation, confederate statues fall, representing to some the fall of a long defeated regime, to others a recognition of the efforts enacted by grassroots activists and to many, a reminder that the nation still has much to do in shaking the shackles of its degenerative past.
Perhaps American politics hasn’t endured a more polarizing, pejorative and blatant figure as President Donald Trump, who mimicked the rhetoric of long deceased and removed from elected office figures like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Bull Connor.
Though statues are removed, hate remains.
Under the Obama administration, white hate groups’ membership rose by fifty-two percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number was coupled with the rise in white arms militia membership under the previous administration.
In the six months that the Trump administration has assumed power, white hate groups have grown by seventy-four percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Charleston, South Carolina endured this hate head on when Dylan Roof opened fire, killing nine members of Emmanuel AME Church. Online, Roof’s actions were applauded by hate forums like stormfront and on Facebook, Twitter and comments sections of Yahoo and AOL News sites.
Army veteran Bree Newsome climbed atop the state’s capitol flagpole and removed the state’s long standing Confederate flag, sparking statewide protests in the process.
Florida could very well have been the catalyst to these protests, as local activists rallied for the removal of the Johnny Reb Confederate statue, which stood in Orlando since 1911, culminating in Orlando City Commissioners voting to reposition the statue.
“As we move this plan forward, I believe this proposal balances the inclusive morals of our community today, while carefully preserving historic artifacts from our past that can be used to further educate and serve as important lessons in today’s society.” Said Commissioner Sam Ings, whose District 6 aligns with the half of Lake Eola where the statue stands.
The nation in total has 2500 Confederate monuments and markers, mostly spread across Southern and Midwestern states. In the four weeks since the white supremacist Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which produced three fatalities, Baltimore has joined Florida and New Orleans in additional removal of Confederate statues. The State of Florida currently has thirty confederate monuments.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has declined to comment on the removal of the Confederate Statues
Though the statue’s removal is ongoing, some in the community wish that the statue be done away with altogether. “It brings painful memories from a past that was not good to all people.” Beverly Colson Neal said.
She also protested that Orlando taxpayers will be charged with funding the statue’s move. “We’re not only reminded of that painful history, but we’re now going to be financially tasked with its removal.”
Neal, the President of the Orange County Branch NAACP, began protests in June 2015, along with former Orlando Sentinel editorial staff member David Porter, for the statues’ removal.
The statues, once removed can be either discarded, destroyed, or directed to a museum, which, with the latter option, will place the funding responsibility in the hands of museum curators.
Confederate sympathizers disagree with statue removal.
“Our monuments represent the history of the confederacy, which is too part of this country. Those soldiers as well have a right to be honored.” Said Charles Kadel, Brigadier Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of Central Florida.
Kadel, who is descendant of family which fought on both the Union and Confederacy sides of the war, suggested that the Union Army openly practiced a greater degree of racism, in the form of segregated units.
Central Florida is home to many Confederate monuments. Lee Middle School, though shortened, is a reminder of the infamous general that oversaw plantations and defined the platform of the Confederacy.
Confederate symbols and literature have gained public prominence in recent years, in the aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina murders of nine parishioners of Emmanuel AME Church. Shooter Dylan Roof recited and ranted online constantly, adorned in confederate insignia.
The primary reason for Confederate Statue removal has been the “removal of a very touchy and blatantly racist period in our society”, according to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Porter said the Confederacy was, “a badge of slavery” and a “harsh reminder” that the nation has not reached a sense of post-racialism.
“As you know, there is a national debate going on regarding monuments and memorials dedicated to the Civil War that were installed back in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Longtime Orlando activist Lawanna Gelzer believes that the statue is a bygone issue, but the racism which has outlived the statue isn’t.
“See how they’re distracting us from the gentrification occurring in Parramore? There will be no more Parramore in another ten years, but they’ve got us focused on a symbolic victory of a statue removal.” She said. Gelzer is the local President of the Central Florida National Action Network.
The area of Parramore was named after Confederate General James B. Parramore, who, in 1881, migrated to Florida to “cleanse his sins” as he wrote. Parramore was accompanied by those still enslaved to them, giving them one half of Parramore. This half was separated by Division Street, which still divides the Black and white side of Parramore to today.
Harsh Realities of a Past Long Buried
Whereas the American flag was created by a Black woman named Grace Wisher, the Confederate flag was created by a group of Black soldiers called the Zouaves, Black Frenchman who migrated to the U.S. and fought with the South, under Jefferson Davis. The Swatsika was derived from a West African Adinkra symbol which meant, “Purpose”.
The former, middle and latter symbols have all been, in some sense, diluted from their original intent, by their original makers.
Florida remains another state which still carries Jim Crow statutes to today. One statute is “reckless eyeballing”, wherein a Black man can be detained and imprisoned for up to four days for “looking at a white person intently”. Another statute is “disturbing the peace”, which stipulates that a white citizen has the “right to carry out a citizen’s arrest, if two or more Black people are too loud publicly for their liking.”
“The war wounds of this past need to heal. It cannot be healed with a constant reminder of who inflicted the wound.” Said Beverly Neal.