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Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017
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Editorial: Hillsborough's Confederate monument should be removed

The Confederate monument has been outside the old Hillsborough County Courthouse for decades, but it's time for it to go. Hillsborough County commissioners, who will discuss the issue Wednesday, should ignore revisionist history and recognize that a symbol of racial division and discrimination has no place in the public square — certainly not outside a hall of justice. Then the county should focus on the future by expanding opportunities for minorities for better housing, quality schools and high-paying jobs.

Commissioner Les Miller, the only black member of the board, wants the 106-year-old monument removed and calls it a symbol of bondage erected to honor "those who didn't even look at you as a human being." He timed his request to coincide with a renewed national conversation on race, and it follows a decision by New Orleans to take down its four Confederate memorials.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Steve Contorno reported this week, opposition to Miller's proposal was sharp and swift. A mailer was circulated comparing the commissioner — a U.S. Air Force veteran and former state senator — to the Islamic State. And commission chairman Stacy White intends to seek a ban on removing any of the county's war memorials. "This is a part of history,'' he said.

This may be part of history, but it's not deserving of a public memorial in front of a government building. It's understandable that many families in Florida, the third Southern state to secede, would not want to judge their forefathers by the standards of today. But the memorial was christened by city leaders of the day in homage to racial separation.

Southern heritage groups have spent generations attempting to recast the narrative of the Civil War. This not an exercise county government should indulge. The only issue is whether a symbol of discrimination belongs on public property. Hillsborough County has removed the Confederate flag from the county seal and County Center, and it ended official recognition of Southern Heritage Month. Removing the monument would be another step toward promoting greater inclusion rather than honoring past racial discrimination.

The commission's debate comes as the Hillsborough County School Board appropriately considers whether to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tampa. A former black commissioner, Tom Scott, who also served on Tampa City Council, understands the desire to remove racial symbols from the public sphere. But he adds: "After removing the statue, we still have a problem if we're not addressing the systemic issues."

Scott is right that the county needs to focus on substantive reforms as well as hurtful symbols. Removing the statue should be an easy call. But what are local officials doing to improve the job climate, housing, education and political involvement in minority communities? The Confederate memorial is out of place because it harkens to a time in America when these opportunities were off limits. After removing the memorial, the broader challenge is improving opportunities for all today.

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