Supporters of the Confederate monument in Pensacola’s Lee Square are planning a rally for Saturday morning to show city leaders that they want the monument to stay where it is.
The rally comes after Mayor Ashton Hayward last week called for the monument’s removal. The 50-foot monument — dedicated to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Pensacolian Confederate veterans Stephen R. Mallory and Edward Aylesworth Perry, and “the Uncrowned Heroes of the Southern Confederacy” — was erected in 1891, two years after what was then called Florida Square was renamed for Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Rally organizer Thomas Olsen of Milton says he’s holding the rally “as a means of protecting the history behind the monument.” Olsen says the monuments are part of not only his own family history — he says he has ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War — but of “many families locally and throughout history.”
“I’m hoping to send a message that we will no longer sit on the sideline while we continue to watch the left destroy the history that many of us share and hold dear to our hearts,” Olsen said.
While some have suggested moving the monument to a museum, to Veterans Memorial Park, or to a cemetery, Olsen says he hopes to keep the monument where it is, “no moving and no removal.”
“There are many in the local community that share the same belief, I’ve had many people contact me in support with intent on showing up themselves,” Olsen said.
City officials said earlier this week that a special event permit will be required if more than 30 people are expected to attend the rally. As of Wednesday morning, Olsen hadn’t yet obtained the permit, but he said he is currently working with the city and hopes to have the permit in hand by close of business on Thursday.
Following recent events in Charlottesville, Va., where one woman was killed and dozens were injured as white supremacists clashed with protestors, Olsen says he has “a lot of concerns about violence at this rally” but that organizers “have a few plans put together in case there is violence.”
“I can say there won’t be any violence coming from our side,” Olsen said. “But we have evidence of counter-protesters planning a rally and their main goal is to disrupt us, using violence if necessary. We will have people, or a security team, in place in order to help get people out of the area if violence is the end result. I’ve instructed those involved not to engage any violence coming from counter-protesters, but to back up to a safe area and allow law enforcement to do their job.”
City officials on Tuesday wouldn’t discuss what, if any, precautions are being taken to ensure public safety ahead of the rally.
“We strive to make all public gatherings safe events,” said city spokesman Vernon Stewart. “However, we never comment on our security protocols.”
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.
Two city council members — Council President Brian Spencer and Councilman Larry B. Johnson — have come out in support of Hayward’s plan, while one, Councilman Andy Terhaar, has said he does not support moving the monument. Councilwoman Sherri Myers was uncommitted, saying she hoped to host a “joint town hall meeting” with the Escambia-Pensacola Human Relations Commission on the issue. Other council members have not responded to requests for comment.