Saturday, February 29, 2020

U.S. Colored Troops Deserve Heroic Monument

They fought for the United States of America as "U.S. Colored Troops." They helped liberate Fort Sumter, S.C., helped free slaves and helped occupy Jacksonville, Florida. Some 155 years after the Civil War ended, St. Augustine's black Civil War veterans will finally get a monument.

On August 25, 1879, City burghers tabled/rejected Thomas House's request for a monument to Union veterans, while allowing one for Confederate veterans, relocated from Roman Catholic church property where it resided since 1873.

During 2017-2018, St. Augustine residents debated Confederate veteran monuments. Our City decided to leave the Confederate monument alone, but to contextualize it.

Meanwhile, University of Florida Historic St. Augustine, Inc. made a recommendation to preserve the 1920 cenotaph to General William Wing Loring, located west of Government House.

Then, when UF approved a nearby U.S.C.T. monument design, it never asked U.S.C.T. veterans' descendants. Why?

UF never hired an architect. Why?

UF had a cemetery monument company design a big 'ole tombstone. Why?

UF's unforced errors on U.S.C.T. veterans must be remedied. Now.

"The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." (Attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Thanks to historian David Nolan for his February 15 letter, "Monumentally bad design." Thanks to our St. Augustine Historic Architectural Review Board, UF will now do its homework, hire an architect and seek public involvement in the design process. How about an heroic sculpture, not just an eight foot wall with words? How about a colorful statue of a U.S.C.T. soldier reading a book?

Our Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington, D.C. is instructive. Some thought the design was too stark. America added a sculpture of soldiers. That compromise works.

Likewise, HARB believes we need human scale to draw people to learn about U.S.C.T. history. I agree. Come speak out at HARB on April 16, 2020 at 1 pm.

A stark wall, unadorned by art or anything on its backside, does not fit in our Plaza. It is, however, perhaps symbolic of UF's strange relationship with St. Augustine residents and our City's cherished history. Impressions of UF's "historic" operations here include:
o sports bars;
o no-bid leases;
o never asking locals before "rebranding" Government House as "Governor's House";
o evisceration of historic interpretation;
o historical inaccuracies, air-brushing history;
o omitting names of historic re-enactors from credits for PBS documentary on St. Augustine;
o secrecy.

Enough flummery. An educational institution "must not be run as a dictatorship," as my mother once wrote a New Jersey college president.

Rose Kennedy's favorite Bible verse was "To whom much is given, much is expected." UF has a $1.825 billion endowment. The State of Florida asked UF to preserve and protect our historic properties. Is UF an unjust steward? Is UF a good neighbor? You tell me.

Mayor Nancy Shaver said, "government is a customer service enterprise." We need higher standards in the place that Dr. King called "the most lawless" in America. UF works for us, not the other way around.

What's next? How will UF respond to HARB?

Let's welcome everyone to speak out on UF in St. Augustine, starting with UF's U.S.C.T. monumental debacle.

UF must learn humility and stewardship. UF must expand and enlarge its St. Augustine board.

UF must hold nighttime meetings and encourage dialogue, debate and diverse views.

UF's future role here will eventually be determined by the legislature.

Preserving St. Augustine's incomparable 12,000 years of history and breathtaking nature requires a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, with first-rate National Park Service staff work.

Our City's future is up to you.

Ask questions, demand answers, expect democracy.

With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely yours,
Ed Slavin

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