St. Augustine city leaders prepare for Confederate memorial debate

City manager recommends keeping Civil War monument, adding context

By Jim Piggott - Reporter , David Benfield - Web producer

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - St. Augustine city leaders are preparing for a long debate Monday as they take up the issue of a Confederate monument on city property.

The Civil War memorial in the Plaza de la Constitución commemorates an area soldier who served and died in the Confederate Army.

City Manager John Regan was asked to conduct research into the topic after the City Commission heard over four hours of public comments Aug. 28.

The monument doesn’t really say anything about the Confederacy, but lists names of those who died in the Civil War.

Regan plans to recommend at Monday's meeting that the memorial remain in place, but that another display be added to explain the history of the monument and provide context. What that display might entail would be guided by a commission-appointed advisory committee.

Regan's recommendation will follow a presentation that is expected to offer background on the memorial’s history, its context with other Civil War-related monuments in Florida and nationwide and recount the city’s ongoing effort to tell its entire history.

“The staff recommendation is to keep the monument, not remove the monument, but to embark on an effort to improve our effort of telling the whole story,” Regan said. “It’s called contextualization. Spend more time in some way to educate or to tell the other perspective.”

Staff opted not to recommend doing nothing or moving the monument. The city said doing nothing  would be to “miss an opportunity to tell the city’s complete history,” and moving the monument raises challenges of how do that without physically destroying it, the cost of the project, who would pay for it and identifying a place for relocation.

Last month, Rev. Ron Rawls, of the St. Paul AME Church, held a meeting at his church to get the dialogue started for removing the memorial. He said Thursday that he's not surprised that the city is recommending it stay, but he’s not about to give up.

“I am just a person. When you are in a place that does not have the will to do what is right for everyone, all you can do is fight,” Rawls said.

Regan said he understands that but said this monument is different because it was not built at a time to instill fear in African-Americans, which he acknowledged some statues across the country were designed to do.

“This monument is very specific -- a memorial to fallen soldiers,” Regan said. “It can be interpreted in different ways. But I don’t think the answer for us to improve the social condition in St. Augustine is to remove it.”

Monday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. in The Alcazar Room, City Hall, 75 King St. The meeting will be carried live on GTV, as well as online at www.CityStAugTV.com, where it is also available on-demand Tuesday. 

According to the commission, Regan’s presentation won’t happen before 7:15 p.m. The commission said that will allow it to work through its regular agenda, recess briefly at 7 p.m. when overflow seating will be set up, then resume the meeting at 7:15 p.m. with the regular agenda, including Regan’s presentation.

The commission can choose to follow Regan's recommendation, come up with its own plan or do nothing.

Based on the level of interest in the matter and the participation of the previous meeting, overflow seating will be available in the loggia off the City Hall courtyard after 7 p.m. to accommodate the hours of the Dressing Downton exhibit. 

Those arriving after The Alcazar Room has reached capacity may fill out a comment card, but there will be no overflow seating until after 7 p.m.

There have been some reports that there are two Confederate memorials being discussed at Monday’s meeting. The city released a statement Thursday, clarifying the misunderstanding.

According to the city, a second Civil War memorial honoring William Wing Loring is nearby at the corner of Cordova and King streets, but is not in the Plaza de la Constitución. The memorial is located in what is traditionally referred to as the West Garden, or Loring Park, and is under the state's jurisdiction, not the city's.

It will be up to the governor's office or the Legislature to decided what will happen to the Loring memorial.

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