Black Fla. lawmaker proposes bill protecting Confederate statues

A black lawmaker in Florida filed a bill that would bar the removal of Confederate monuments in the Sunshine State. Such statues and other memorials have come under attack on American college campuses during recent years.

Republican state Rep. Mike Hill proposed the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act” to ensure the preservation of “remembrances” constructed on public property from Mar. 22, 1822 and onward, the Pensacola News Journal  reported. 

Such memorials “may only be relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated or otherwise disturbed if necessary to accommodate construction, repair, or improvements to the remembrance or to the surrounding property,” according to the bill. While governments have bypassed similar laws by selling land on which Confederate memorials are located and permitting the new owner to remove them, Hill’s bill stipulates that sale of public property containing a memorial must result in the memorial occupying a position of “equal prominence.”

The move came just months after Florida State University quietly removed a statue of former Tallahassee Mayor Francis Eppes, a supporter of the Confederacy, under the cover of darkness. FSU spokesman Dennis Schnittker told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that the statue had been relocated to temporary storage. 

Should the bill become state law, it’s unclear what, if any, impact it could have on the Eppes statue. Hill did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform in time for publication. It’s unclear how many confederate statues and memorials currently stand on Florida public college campuses. 

[RELATED: Student protesters tear down Confederate statue at UNC]

”It will not change any person’s life today by tearing down a Confederate monument or tearing down a statue or tearing down a cross,” Hill said to the Miami New Times more recently. “It will not change any person’s life by doing that. What it will do is prevent someone from learning the history of why it was there in the first place.”

But protesters on some college campuses might beg to differ. 

The University of North Carolina (UNC) - Chapel Hill’s statue depicting Confederate soldier Silent Sam has generated both debate and defacement. UNC faculty members threatened to tear down the statue in February. A graduate student got arrested in April after smearing Silent Sam with a concoction she claimed to contain red paint and her own blood. And, in August, protesters tore down the statue.

The UNC’s Board of Trustees subsequently proposed a $5 million plan to house the statue on the edge of campus and comply with state law preventing its removal. Faculty members and TAs who wanted the monument removed from campus entirely threatened to withhold grades and not teach for the first week of the spring semester. 

UNC’s provost later said in an email obtained by Campus Reform that those actions by graduate assistants and professors violated students’ First Amendment rights. UNC’s Board of Governors rejected the trustees’ plan, asking the group to draw up another proposal.

[RELATED: UNC Silent Sam protesters: ‘Abolish...the Chancellor, the President, & the police’]

The North Carolina school is not the only institution of higher education to get caught up in the Confederate controversy. Vanderbilt University announced in 2016 that it would dole out over $1 million to remove the word “Confederate” from a residence hall’s inscription. That same year, South Carolina’s York Technical College forbade the Confederate flag from being featured at a Confederate history event.

Individuals associated with the Confederacy are not the only historical figures to have come under attack. A statue of Thomas Jefferson was vandalized with “racist + rapist” and covered with a sign reading “Black Lives Matter -- F*** White Supremacy” at the University of Virginia, the institution he founded.

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