On our recent visit to Lakeland Florida our friends took us to see a statue of a confederate soldier from the American civil war which is right at the heart of their hometown in a place called Munn Park. The city has decided it agrees with folks from the local chapter of the NAACP and others who feel such a reminder of an army that fought to perpetuate slavery could be offensive to members of Lakeland’s black community and a troubling symbol of racism. A decision was made in December of 2017 to move the statue erected in 1910 by a group called The Daughters of the Confederacy to nearby Veterans Park thereby giving it a less prominent position on the city landscape.
The statue remains in place a year later because now the city is divided over who will pay to move it. It will cost $225,000 and so far private donors have only come forward with $26,000. While we were in Lakeland the city’s commissioners voted to use revenues from traffic light cameras to finance the move.
Their decision may be further complicated by the fact a group called Save Our Southern Heritage are suing the city over the proposed move of the statue. Protesters who want the statue to remain in its current spot held a rally in April of this year and enticed folks to support their cause by buying raffle tickets for a donated Derringer pistol.
We have had our own issues here in Canada with removing statues. Just as recently as August of this year opinions were clearly and passionately divided over whether a statue of Canada’s first prime minster should be removed from City Hall in Victoria British Columbia. Sir John A MacDonald helped to found our country but he also was the architect of a residential school system that generated enormous harm amongst Canada’s First Nations people.
We are not so different from our American neighbours and perhaps we have something to learn from each other as both our countries reevaluate our history and try to figure out the best way to commemorate it.