Thursday, February 08, 2018
‘A rock and a hard place’. (SAR) First meeting of Confederate monument contextualization committee in St. Augustine, Florida
Good article, great photo -- let the healing begin. Our City has resisted demands to remove an 1879 Confederate monument. Instead, we're going to contextualize it. I agree.
‘A rock and a hard place’
Historian Susan Parker speaks during the City of St. Augustine Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee’s first meeting on Wednesday at City Hall. [CHRISTINA KELSO/THE RECORD]
By Sheldon Gardner
Posted at 12:01 AM
Updated at 5:52 AM
St. Augustine Record
After months of meetings, hours of public debate and at least two protests about the city of St. Augustine’s Confederate memorial, the effort to flesh out Civil War history at the site moved ahead quietly on Wednesday.
About 10 people were in the audience at City Hall as the Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee met for the first time. No protesters were seen at City Hall.
After deciding in October to keep the Confederate memorial in the Plaza de la Constitucion, city commissioners appointed the committee in January to bring a more complete history of the Civil War in St. Augustine to the memorial. The memorial lists 44 men who died serving the Confederacy.
All seven people on the committee attended Wednesday’s meeting: Flagler College history Professor J. Michael Butler, retired St. Johns County educator Sharyn Wilson Smith Coley, Flagler College adjunct history professor and former naval museum director Elizabeth Dove, Flagler College emeritus history Professor Thomas Graham, St. Johns County Recreation Supervisor Thomas Jackson, historian Susan Parker and Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center Director Regina Gayle Phillips.
The point of the first meeting was to lay out a framework for the committee’s effort, set meeting times and elect a chair and vice chair. Committee members chose Jackson as chair and Phillips as vice chair.
Jackson, giving a nod to the tension in the community over the monument, said his concern is that committee members do their jobs well.
“There’s no any one individual looking at getting any type of accolades from this committee because this committee is kind of one of those [that’s] between a rock and a hard place — because the rock is one crowd and the hard place is the other crowd,” he said.
The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the City Commission by May about how to add context to the memorial. The committee will meet at 3 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month at The Alcazar Room at St. Augustine City Hall. All their meeting materials and videos will be posted at citystaug.com/memorial.
Wednesday’s meeting also provided committee members with a briefing on their ethical responsibilities and laws regarding public records and meetings.
Since the group is appointed by the commission, committee members can only meet at publicly noticed meetings and all the records related to their business are public record, Assistant City Attorney John Cary said.
Cary also said the city does not believe there is a problem with Parker serving on the committee, even though the city has hired her to write part of its Historic Preservation Master Plan.
The group started discussing how history could be added to the site.
Graham said the Plaza already looks like it has too many monuments, and he suggested the city could add a marker or markers to the base of the monument to blend in with the architecture.
He suggested adding several historical markers that cover topics such as St. Augustine men who fought for the Confederacy and the Union, slaves in St. Augustine, and information about the memorial such as the controversy that surrounded it even in the 1800s.
Questions also arose about how much history to cover with historical markers.
“Should we tie the monument, what it represented in the mid-20th century, to the civil rights movement that happened in the downtown Plaza?” Butler asked. “Symbolically it held very, very deep meaning for both African-Americans and for whites who gathered.”
″ ... In my opinion it is more important to address the monument when it was put up ... I wouldn’t focus so much on the mid-20th Century,” Parker said. “I think I’d be more concerned about interpreting it for people in the 21st Century.”
Coley added later, “This should be all inclusive for everyone who had to fight and for everyone who had to die, whether it’s green or polka-dot, we have to be all inclusive with this language, or we’re still not going to make anyone happy. So it has to be all inclusive.”
Getting public feedback is also part of the process, and City Clerk Darlene Galambos suggested the committee reach out to veterans groups and others, which was discussed by the commission.
The next meeting is expected to delve deeper into what words could be used for markers and how other communities have added context to their own monuments.