Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward on Wednesday called for the removal of a Confederate statue at the city’s Lee Square, becoming the latest Southern mayor to support the removal of such monuments.
Hayward made the comments in a radio interview with Andrew McKay of NewsRadio 1620.
Despite only having been in Confederate hands for about 16 months, Pensacola wasn’t immune to a wave of Confederate revisionism which swept the South after Reconstruction ended and during which monuments romanticizing the war were built in hundreds of cities. In 1889, the city renamed Florida Square, overlooking downtown Pensacola on North Hill, after Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and in 1891, a 50-foot Confederate monument was erected in the center of the park.
The monument is 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 granite column is topped with a statue of a generic Confederate soldier, a copy of a similar monument erected in 1889 in Alexandria, Va.
“Pensacola has a rich and diverse history and it is important to honor our history,” Hayward said in a statement. “We will continue to promote inclusivity, but as you see across the nation, these Confederate monuments are becoming increasingly divisive.”
Hayward added, “We are currently examining this monument’s history and purpose. We are also weighing our options as it relates to the law and discussing how to move forward. Mayor Hayward would like to see the monument in a better context that promotes inclusivity, but there is a process and laws that we need to abide by.”
In 2015, Hayward removed the Confederate flag from the city’s “Five Flags” displays at City Hall, the foot of the Pensacola Bay Bridge, and the downtown post office, replacing it with the Florida state flag.
In pursuing the monument’s removal, it’s unclear whether or not Hayward is bound by a city council policy passed in 2000 — before the city changed to a mayor-council form of government in 2010 — which calls for city council approval before historical monuments or markers can be removed.
At least two city council members have voiced their support for Hayward’s plan.
“My thoughts are closely aligned with those that were expressed by New Orleans’ mayor, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, when he delivered an address on the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments in May of this year,” City Council President Brian Spencer said Wednesday. “I think his speech awakened the City of New Orleans, and the nation for that matter, to the distinction between reverence and remembrance for public monuments. For me, this expands the question from a simple ‘should we remove or not remove’ to one where we must ask ourselves if we are proud or ashamed of our monuments that revere intolerable actions of our past.”
“I want to join Mayor Hayward in condemning white supremacists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and all other hate groups,” said Councilman Larry B. Johnson in a statement. “They are un-American and stand in opposition to the ideals upon which this country was founded. For many, Pensacola’s Confederate monument is a symbol of that hate and of a shameful period in our city’s past. I do not believe that the monument belongs in a public park overlooking our downtown. I absolutely support the mayor in his plans to remove the monument and hope that it can be moved to a museum or other appropriate location where it can be placed in the proper context.”
Should Hayward move forward with plans to remove the monument, Pensacola would become just the latest in a wave of Southern cities which have removed similar monuments in recent years. The University of Texas at Austin removed a statue of Jefferson Davis in 2015, and officials in Lousiville, Ky. removed a Confederate monument late last year. Earlier this year, New Orleans became the largest Southern city to date to remove Confederate monuments when four statues were removed following a lengthy court battle.
Additional monuments have come down in the wake of a white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend. Protestors on Monday toppled a Confederate monument in Durham, N.C., while monument in Baltimore, Md., Gainesville, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla. were removed this week on orders from city leaders. In recent days, mayors of other Southern cities, including Lexington, Ky. and Birmingham, Ala. have announced plans to pursue removal of Confederate monuments in their cities.