LAKELAND, Fla. — A new piece of legislation could see elected leaders removed from office for taking down Confederate monuments.
It’s through House Bill 395, which proposes state “protection of historical monuments and memorials” authorizing “all actions to protect and preserve all historical monuments and memorials from removal, damage or destruction.”
The bill would punish lawmakers and officials who voted to remove such items. They could also be fined with the costs of replacing or repairing any removed monuments. State Rep. Dean Black of Jacksonville filed the legislation this year, which was co-introduced by State Rep. Berny Jacques who says those who support the bill would like to see history preserved.
“I’m also against this movement that seems to be very determined about removing American history, around the country and here in the State of Florida,” said Jacques, State Representative for District 59. “I think we have to push back against that, and it’s very dangerous. We should not delete and erase history.”
It’s a proposal that not everyone agrees on.
“I love coming out here. It has such a serene feeling to it. There’s so much history here,” Air Force veteran Terry Coney said while strolling through Veteran’s Park. “That monument over there recognizes purple heart recipients, this is in honor of a Medal of Honor winner, and this is the World War II area.”
Various monuments and memorials have been placed around the park, each recognizing a specific period of war and those who fought. One stands above the rest, symbolizing a tumultuous part of America’s history.
“It’s there to honor the Confederacy,” Coney said. “And right there it says ‘Confederate dead.’”
It’s a Confederate monument, recognizing the Confederate soldiers who fought in America’s Civil War. Growing up in Lakeland, Coney knew of the statue as a boy. But at that time it resided in Munn Park — rooted in downtown Lakeland.
“I just kind of blew it off as another one of those southern things or glorifications of that southern way of life — ‘dixie old times not forgotten’ and kind of moved on from that,” said Coney, who is also President of the NAACP Lakeland Branch.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Coney got involved. He spoke to local leaders about having the monument moved.
“When you bring in new business people and you’re showing them around, and you’re right in downtown and you’ve got this big Confederate statue, what does that say? Are you still living in the past or are you that town that’s moving forward?” Coney said.
He made it his mission to research various periods of American history.
“I just felt like it was important to know the actual truth and the history versus just selling on the myth of what’s been said or what’s been passed down from time to time.”
His research was then used to write his own essay. The essay defended his stance on why he believed the monument should be moved.
“Look at the broader perspective of what happened during that time, why it happened, and why these particular statues were put up,” he said. “Not just that they identify history. You can open a book and read about history and read about the actual facts.”
Ultimately, the city voted to move the statue. As for what may be ahead, Coney has other thoughts.
“When you start having these kinds of laws proposed and passed, for me, it really starts to infringe on that and takes away that power and leads to something bigger,” he said.
To know where we’re going, Coney thinks it’s best to learn from our past.
“We’ve had good and bad history, but we should learn from that,” he said. “To move on and to understand who we are, currently, as a country.”
It’s a moment of reflection Coney believes everyone should take.
Should the legislation be passed, the monument honoring Confederate soldiers could be returned to Munn Park.