BRADENTON – By 4-3 vote, Manatee County Commissioners have rejected Vanessa Baugh’s motion to ask county voters if they want a Confederate monument returned to the Historic Courthouse in downtown Bradenton until a new location is found.
Erected in 1924, the memorial monument was removed from the courthouse square and placed in storage after a 4-3 commission vote in August. During the move, the 22-foot, 8.5-ton granite monument was dropped and broke into three pieces. The monument will be repaired when installed at a yet-to-be-determined location.
The unadvertised monument debate ensued when county resident Barbara Hemingway broached the topic during citizens’ input at the commission’s Tuesday, May 8, meeting.
Hemingway said a group she’s working with has proposed the Manatee Village Historical Park or the nearby Manatee Burying Ground as equally respectful locations, but the commissioners she previously met with preferred the Gamble Mansion Historic State Park in Ellenton, which would require state approval.
Hemingway referenced a letter from the Gamble Plantation Preservation Alliance and she said that location was a longshot at best.
“Right now, we’re having a hard time finding a home for this.”
Priscilla Trace, County Commission chair
In December, Preservation Alliance President Gail Jessee sent a letter to Florida Department of Environmental Protection District 4 Bureau Chief Valinda Subic stating, “This letter establishes for the record our opposition to the proposed relocation of the Bradenton Manatee Confederate monument to the state park.”
The letter said the threat of destruction the monument faced at the courthouse would follow it to the steps of the state park’s historic plantation house.
“It began with the removal of the song ‘Dixie,’ then the removal of Confederate flags, now it is our Confederate monuments, markers and memorials. Next it will be Confederate structures,” the letter said.
In October, the Manatee County Veterans Council sent the commission a letter expressing opposition to the monument being placed at Veterans Park, near the Bradenton Riverwalk.
Hemingway suggested the commission ask county voters if they want the monument returned to the courthouse square, accompanied by an educational sign describing the purpose of its existence.
Veteran Bob Greenwald said, “It is old verity that says those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat its errors in the future. Take responsibility for this well-intentioned mistake and restore the monument to its rightful place.”
Greenwald said letting voters decide would remove that burden from commissioners.
County resident Katherine Edwards disagreed and said, “I wonder when people are going to realize that the Confederacy was un-American and Confederate monuments have no place at the foot of the courthouse steps.”
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh took exception to Edwards’ comments and agreed the matter should be decided by voters. Commissioner Robin DiSabatino asked Baugh if that was a motion and then seconded it.
“I had relatives that fought in that (war) and none of us were for slaves,” Baugh said. “I take offense that all of you up on this board think that you can just talk about slavery and that’s what it was all about. It wasn’t. If you have any guts you will vote to let the people decide.”
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she and some staff members have talked to Sen. Bill Galvano about the Gamble Plantation location, which already serves as a Confederate memorial. She said the goal is to determine whether the state park is a viable location to present to the citizenry.
“You can’t whitewash history, but this has happened. Now we’ve got to find a place where it can be respected and I want to make sure it’s at a safe place,” Whitmore said.
“If that’s not doable, we’ll be back at the table to see what options are available,” Commissioner Betsy Benac added.
Baugh, DiSabatino and Steve Jonsson supported the motion. Commission Chair Priscilla Trace, Charles Smith, Whitmore and Benac opposed it.
After the vote, Trace said, “I have no problem with people voting on it, but we don’t know where we have permission to put it. Right now, we’re having a hard time finding a home for this.”
She and Benac said they don’t see the point in returning the monument to the courthouse when it might have to be removed again. Trace said she wants to find a permanent location that spares future commissions from this debate.