In line with other jumpy elected officials in jurisdictions below the Mason and Dixon, county commissioners in Hillsborough County, Florida voted 4-2 Wednesday to remove the monument to Confederate soldiers that have stood in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa for more than a century, doing no discernible harm to anyone. Jim Crow was run out of town with the statue in place. But in our ever more difficult search to find remaining vestiges of anti-black racism, the hell-raisers fastened on the statue. And so it had to go.
The statue will be removed from county property and shipped to a private cemetery in Brandon, a suburb of Tampa. Appropriate enough, because any tolerance for appreciation of Southern history is as dead as the statue’s new neighbors. “Old times there are not forgotten,” the song teaches us. But they will be if the hell-raisers have their way.
The same Republican-majority commission voted 4-3 last month to keep the statue. But then the anti-statue crowd began to reason with them. Phone calls, demonstrations, lots of yelling, politicians pandering to their constituencies. Some of the forensic tactics included death threats to a least one commissioner. So, having the matter thus explained to them, four of the seven fell in line Wednesday, as just about anyone paying attention knew they would. The vote came after a three-and-a-half-hour public hearing with both sides well-represented, and all the cheering and jeering one would expect at such a séance. At the end, the anti-statue crowd carried the day. No surprise. Does anyone even remember when a noisy pressure group did not get what it wanted?
The question of whether the Confederate statue is racist is debatable. But it’s a tough case to make, as many anti-statue folks in the hearing asserted that it is “a statue commemorating racism.” Certainly, the plantation economy of the antebellum South was based on black slavery. But the statue does not commemorate slavery, or even the war aims of the Confederate states. It commemorates the soldiers who served and died in what is still America’s bloodiest war.
The usual suspects said the usual things in the “debate,” if such you can call it, there being no doubt about who would ultimately win this one. Tampa’s Democrat mayor in a heavily Democrat city said it was time to remove the statue. He may even believe it. The race card dealers were at their same old stands. The business community expressed the fear that someone might lose a sale if the statue endured, putting me in mind of Walker Percy’s droll reference to “the happy hustlers of the new Sunbelt South.” (Of course, thanks to in-migration in its millions, Florida hasn’t been Southern except geographically for decades. Natives of Dixie in the Sunshine State are about as hard to come across as winning Lotto tickets.)
As is annoyingly the case these days, two of the area’s major league sports franchises put their oar in on this one. Both MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers said they supported removal of the statue. What courthouse statuary has to do with putting on ball games is not immediately clear. But about the only thing today’s truly with-it sports executive enjoys more than a new stadium, or a fat new television contract is to engage in virtue signaling. Thus the joyless hectoring from sports team owners about what statues should garnish our court houses and who should be allowed to use what public bathroom.
The local media has mostly cooed that the commission did the right thing. Moving ahead, inclusiveness, putting aside divisiveness, and other vague bromides. (For those wondering, inclusiveness does not include those who object to erasing huge chunks of Southern history, in the way the old Soviet Union erased non-persons.) Of course, the statue wasn’t divisive for more than a century, during which some tough and real racial issues were sorted, later than they should have been, but to everyone’s advantage. And press stories today absolve the aggressors in this issue of any taint of divisiveness.
Life will go on in heavenly Hillsborough. It will still be hot and humid into October. The Buccaneers will soon report to camp and risk heat stroke by working out in the Florida summer sun. The Rays will hang around near the top of the AL East but probably don’t have the bullpen to endure into October. Johnny Reb won’t mind being in the cemetery, even though his new neighbors won’t be as talkative as the court house crowd. Those who wanted him thrown into outer darkness will celebrate for a short while. But are certainly even now trying to decide what they’ll raise hell about next. Their recent victory has demonstrated that while it’s truly hard now to find real racism, it’s not all that difficult to manufacture it. And public officials can almost always be bullied into going along with the gag.
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