Erasing Black History Has Always Been the Goal
Hundreds of Confederate monuments have been removed across the country since 2015. Up until now no community has given serious thought to reinstalling a monument to its original location, especially in cases where they were legally removed following local input and a decision by local leaders. That may change next week.
Commissioners in Manatee County, Florida are considering bringing its Confederate monument out from storage and reinstalling it in its original location on the courthouse grounds. In 2017 the county commission voted 4-3 in favor of removal. During the removal process workers accidentally dropped and fractured the monument into at least three pieces. It will cost tens of thousands of dollars just to repair it.
It’s too early to say whether this proposal has any chance of passing, but that doesn’t really matter. What’s important to acknowledge is that this has nothing to do with preserving the past or standing up for history.
Like all monuments, the dedication of Manatee County’s Confederate monument in 1924 reflected the current political, social, racial, and economic climate of the region. The city of Bradenton itself didn’t even exist during the Civil War, but was established in 1903. The dedication of the monument had little to do directly with the Civil War.
In the 1920s, Bradenton was attempting to establish itself as a destination for Florida vacationers. The city of Bradenton even took out advertisements in publications like Confederate Veteran magazine highlighting local attractions celebrating the Lost Cause during the 1927 United Confederate Veterans reunion in nearby Tampa.
It’s a point of reference that should be kept in mind as we follow this particular story in 2023. The removal of the monument in 2017 reflected the pressures placed on local leaders stemming from multiple news stories of police violence, the recent massacre of Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by an admitted white supremacist, and a national reckoning around the history and legacy of slavery.
The question of whether to undo this decision has everything to do with current Florida politics, especially Governor Ron DeSantis’s continued campaign against educators and the teaching of African American history. Just last week the governor made news after deciding to ban an AP course in African American studies. The administration has given no specifics justifying this decision beyond a few vague references to so-called problematic sources included in the curriculum and attempted student indoctrination.
As I suggested last week, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no question that local leaders are taking stock of decisions made in Tallahassee and the broader political climate. Local leaders are positioning themselves either for reelection and/or other offices just as DeSantis is doing.
But there is also something more insidious about these decisions.
Both the dedication of the monument in 1924 and DeSantis’s war against Black history are part of a much larger narrative of maintaining political control by stoking fear among white Americans that any inroads made by African Americans constitutes a direct threat to their own power and privilege.
Confederate monuments once functioned to center local and national history around white Americans while recent Republican attempts in Florida and elsewhere to censor the teaching of Black history is about casting the narrative to the radical fringes, where it can be more easily dismissed.
County commissioners in support of reinstalling the monument are convinced that it “existed for over 90 years on north lawn of the Historical Courthouse without controversy or conflict.”
Of course, these individuals might appreciate just how absurd this statement is if they had taken a class in African American Studies, but brushing aside Black history has always been the goal.
Finally, a reminder that local elections matter.
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No big deaI. I used to live in the Tampa/Sarasota area.
FYI: There is no Bradenton County in Florida. The city of Bradenton is located in Manatee County.