LAKELAND, FL – The fate of a giant chunk of marble chiseled into the likeness of a Confederate soldier could be decided by the Lakeland City Commission on May 7.
After months of debating whether the 26-foot-tall statue that’s stood in Munn Park since 1910 should be moved to a more inconspicuous location, commissioners are prepared to make a decision.
Like similar Confederate monuments throughout the South erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910-11 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the South’s succession, the Munn Park Confederate soldier has become a source of divisiveness in the community.
On Saturday, April 28, about 150 people gathered at around the statue at Munn Park to protest what they call the current efforts to erase part of the country’s history.
St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland helped organize the rally.
"Maintaining and respecting our historical monuments and memorials are ways that we believe will allow us to achieve that honorable and noble goal that is preserving America’s history — past and future," Strickland told Saturday’s gathering.
But, for many, Confederate monuments like the one standing in the center of Munn Park is a painful reminder of America’s history of slavery, a history they believe should not be glorified in marble.
"The monument represents the hatred of the days past and that hatred still lingers," said Lakeland NAACP President Reginald Ardis at a city commission meeting in December.
In March, city staff suggested the statute be relocated to either Veterans Park or Roselawn Cemetery where a number of Confederate soldiers are buried.
However, there’s a new proponent for keeping the statue where it is.
Elected to the commission in December, Commissioner Michael Dunn is pushing to leave the statue at Munn Park.
While his fellow commissioners would prefer to see the statue in a less prominent location in the city, it’s the cost of moving the massive piece of marble that is causing concern.
City staff estimates that it could cost up to $225,000 to relocate the statute.
Commissioners are reluctant to use tax dollars.
"I would not want to see city dollars expended for something such as that," Commissioner Phillip Walker said.
Dunn suggested that the groups advocating the statue’s relocation pay for the move.
Last month, Hillsborough County moved a 32-foot-high Confederate statute commissioned by the United Daughters of the American Confederacy from the front of the former county courthouse in Tampa to the historic Brandon family cemetery on Brandon Boulevard where a number of Confederate soldiers are laid to rest.
Hillsborough County paid for half of the $285,000 cost of relocating the monument. The other half was raised by members of the community, including former Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy.
Lakeland commissioners plan to hear from the public on May 7 before making a final decision.
Image via R.M Williams Construction Inc.