The issue of whether to take down monuments to the Confederacy is a hot, divisive topic.
From Louisiana to Virginia to yes, Florida, debates are raging in cities and counties over strong, deep-seeded feelings for or against the statues, plaques and graveyards set aside by Confederate supporters decades ago.
Speaking of graveyards, for instance, West Palm Beach in May began wrestling with one of its own when it came to a monument to Confederate soldiers that’s been at Woodlawn Cemetery since 1941.
As pieces of history honoring the Confederacy fell from city to city, the issue caught fire here, West Palm Beach. Why? Because standing directly behind the American flag, a 10-foot tall marble monument is unmistakable when visitors drive through the front gate of Woodlawn. A Confederate flag is carved into the side with words honoring that army’s soldiers who are buried there. Early in her term, Mayor Jeri Muoio worked to remove all Confederate flags and symbols on city property, but the monument is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Florida was pro-South in the Civil War and the third state to secede. After the war, the bankrupt state started to attract migration through tourism, which is why it’s common to find Union and Confederate veterans buried at places like Woodlawn.
But the issue of Woodlawn is especially sensitive for blacks in West Palm Beach because they weren’t allowed to be buried in the cemetery until 1966 when, under pressure, the City Commission approved it. Under the old rule, 69 white victims of the 1928 hurricane were buried at Woodlawn while 674 black victims were dumped into a mass grave at 25th Street and Tamarind Avenue.
So in May, William McCray, a black resident and well-known commission gadfly, demanded the removal of the monument.
But again, while the cemetery is public property, the monument is privately owned by the United Daughters of The Confederacy. And a local spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1599 said the city should back off.
“This honors the men who were buried there,” Jimmy Shirley told the Post’s Tony Doris. “It’s where it’s supposed to be.”
He said the Confederate’s history deserves to be told along with the Union’s side. Children should know fully about the U.S. Civil War to understand the foundations of the country, so to take down the monument would be misguided and wrong, he said.
Shirley’s not alone in that thinking. And the issue from finding its way onto the Post Opinion pages. As with the following Letter to the Editor published on July 21:
Erasing Confederacy is form of prejudice
It’s easy to look back and say slavery is bad, because under no circumstances would we in this day condone someone enslaving another person. However, it was the way of the South and it is part of our history.
It is absurd to put Southern slave owners in the same category as Nazis and Japanese soldiers. The Confederates were trying to preserve their lifestyle. It doesn’t compare to the intentional atrocities committed by the Japanese and Germans during World War II.
Erasing traces of the Confederacy is committing a form of prejudice exhibiting the very behavior people are protesting.
LANA COMPTON, WEST PALM BEACH
We also had letters with the opposite view:
Confederates’ ‘duty’ was not honorable
Regarding the letter titled, “Statues honor men who did their duty” (June 28), the writer seeks to create an equivalence between a Confederate soldier to whom she is related, yet possibly never met, to conscripted soldiers like my grandfather who fought the Japanese in World War II, while also condemning General Sherman who, also, did his duty.
This equivalency is absurd and insulting. The writer’s great-grandfather committed treason and then, like most Confederates, cut a deal when the Union forced them to disavow the Confederacy or die.
What did Confederates fight for? The right to use people as chattel. She fails to acknowledge how fighting for the Confederacy was acting in approval of slavery despite her great-grandfather not owning slaves.
Doing your duty means putting your life on hold to fight for a cause greater than yourself that is on the side of humanity. Union soldiers can claim that moral high ground, as can Allied soldiers from World War II.
Confederates and conscripted Nazi soldiers who “did their duty” during WWII do not get these same honors.
DANIEL TRIA, LAKE WORTH
In the case of West Palm, the city’s law department has also been investigating if the city can tell the group to move the monument.
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