By Chris Sharp and Travis Hajenga
In 1975, members of the Ku Klux Klan rallied together in downtown Pensacola to protest the changing of Escambia High’s mascot from the “Rebels” to what is now the “Gators.”
Forty-two years later, Pensacola finds itself in a similar predicament with a Confederate statue in Lee Square. The conflict is triggered by nationwide racial tensions and the outcome of Charlottesville, Virginia’s protest, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and 19 others being injured.
Today, our country is coping with a national identity crisis. Some people have not embraced certain changes to what they deem their history and the result is the clashing of ideals that the United States is now experiencing. The question arises, are we to remove all Confederate statues from our streets or can there possibly be a dialog to come up with a solution between the opposing views?
Unfortunately for the nation, fuel was added to the fire after President Donald Trump made remarks condemning the counter protesters for being equally violent and showed sympathy toward White Nationalist ideals. His lack of sympathy towards the counter protesters was unsettling and felt like he was putting all the blame upon the victims.
On August 16th, Mayor Ashton hayward made a strong stand for the removal of Pensacola’s Confederate statue. His reasons are due to what the statue symbolizes. “Everyone is proud of their history, but this is a history that we are not for,” he said.
His stance came with some pushback as local protests were organized against the removal of the statue. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz stated he was against taking down the statue in an interview with Pensacola News Journal (PNJ).
Gaetz doesn’t want people to go around acting like the Civil war never happened. He views this as “whitewashing history,” he told PNJ.
Some would disagree with his take on this so called “whitewashing,” as it is a slap in the face to the nation’s African-American community. Keeping statues such as this in the middle of Pensacola’s beautiful downtown on a public square is a representation of the oppression that African-Americans had to live with and still deal with today.
Recently, Pulitzer Prize winner and columnist for the Miami-Herald, Leonard Pitts spoke at a forum in Pensacola.
Pitts explained that the treatment people of color go through has been distorted by these myths and conceptions of what life is like in this country. These statues have lasted this long, “People would rather have the myth than to deal with the reality, because reality hurts.”
Andrew Barbero explained that these statues were introduced to reverse the changes made during the Reconstruction Era. Barbero said, “These statues truly are monuments to white supremacy.”
These monuments are a representation of a time when the U.S. as deeply divided. A period of civil unrest arose and vigilante justice was enacted. During this time, we saw Americans oppressing, hurting and even killing other Americans.
This brings up the question of what needs to happen with these statues? Do we tear them down completely? Do we move them to cemeteries or museums? These questions are sure to keep this conversation lingering into the future.
Barbero thinks that if removed from current locations, the statues should be moved to museums. “As Americans and human beings, we want to learn from our past and do better,” he said.
Dr. Brian Rucker, PSC history professor, has a solution, “Let’s use the commonalities that we have to bring us together.