The Escambia-Pensacola Human Relations Commission is asking Pensacola city officials to move the Confederate monument in Lee Square to St. John’s Cemetery.
The historic cemetery, which was established in 1876 and covers ten acres in the city’s Westside Garden District neighborhood, offered last week to take the monument after Mayor Ashton Hayward said he would like to see it removed from Lee Square.
“We have several round-about islands which would accommodate the monument,” St. John’s chairman Charles E. Green wrote to Hayward. “There are many Confederate veterans buried on our grounds including some luminaries. We are currently embarked upon a program to convert the entire cemetery to an outdoor museum which has been funded by a grant from Impact 100, so the monument would have a suitable surrounding.”
The Human Relations Commission was established by city and county officials in 1974 to “promote fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Escambia County citizens regardless of race or color, sex (gender), religion, age, national origin or disability.” In a letter sent to city council members on Monday, the commission’s chair and director asked the city council to accept St. John’s offer.
“Let Pensacola be known for quick and appropriate action which honors all sides of this terrible conflict in our history and prevents misunderstandings from escalating out of control,” the letter reads. “If we are proactive and quickly move forward with this project it will be clear to all sides that we, as the oldest community in Florida, do not tolerate racism and celebrate oppression.”
The commission is worried about the potential for violence, the letter says. Earlier this month, violence broke out in Charlottesville, Va. when demonstrators clashed over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in that city. One woman was killed following a white supremacist terror attack.
“We want to be the community that can agree to disagree without our opposing views erupting into violence, sending us into a place where you maybe be unable to return without collateral damage,” the letter reads. “Emotions are high and we submit this letter to encourage all citizens to let rational thoughts and decisions prevail. We do not want to see matters taken into their own hands. Please let this statue be moved to St. John’s Cemetery, now.”
Though he likely has the power as mayor to remove the monument, Hayward said Friday that he wouldn’t act unilaterally and would instead abide by a city policy dating back to 2000 which calls for city council approval before any monument is removed or relocated. It’s unclear whether Hayward plans to ask the city council for that approval or is looking to the council to take the lead on the issue. Hayward’s office has not responded to a request for clarification.
The 50-foot monument overlooks downtown Pensacola from its perch on North Palafox Street near Cervantes. Dedicated to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Pensacolian Confederate veterans Stephen R. Mallory and Edward Aylesworth Perry, and “the Uncrowned Heroes of the Southern Confederacy,” the monument was erected in 1891, two years after what was then called Florida Square was renamed for Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Perry, who also served as Florida’s 14th governor following the war, is among at least 80 Confederate veterans interred at St. John’s.
Read the commission’s letter: