Coalition will protect memorials from out-of-town complainers

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This morning, local Historic City News reporters attended a press conference in St Augustine’s Plaza de la Constitucion at the site of the historical monument to 44 of the city’s war dead — men who left to do battle in the US Civil War and whose bodies were never returned to their families.

In October, the St Augustine City Commission, on recommendation of the City Manager, voted unanimously to preserve the 146-year-old memorial obelisk across from the public market building in the Plaza de la Constitucion. The Confederate Soldier Memorial was built and paid for by the Ladies Memorial Association of Saint Augustine in the 1800’s; however, a Gainesville preacher who works in St Augustine at St Paul AME Church, Ronald Rawls, Jr., has continued to persist in demands and ultimatums if city officials do not rescind the decision and remove the memorial from the public park.

JILL PACETTI

To avoid future threats to our community’s historic landmarks, a group, some of whom have prominent local Minorcan family names that appear on the memorial, is backing a proposal to enact a “Memorial Protection Ordinance” that would make it more difficult to tamper with memorial monuments after they are installed.

The press conference, led by Jill Pacetti, a Minorcan heritage native, announced that she and others have formed a “Save our History” coalition. The Coalition will work to obtain protection for all historical assets in St. Augustine, Pacetti said.

“Over the weekend, Save Southern Heritage Florida conducted a poll of registered voters in the City of St. Augustine and today we will release to you the results of that poll,” Pacetti told local reporters. “The poll was conducted by Gravis Marketing, a respected national public opinion research company. This is one of several local polls by the group, who has also conducted a state-wide poll.”

One of the members of the Save Our History Coalition is The Saint Augustine Tea Party. Speaking for them during the ceremony was Lance Thate who is the Chairman of the group and leader of the Town Crier Committee on St George Street.

“Everyone should know that Confederate Veterans are viewed as American veterans, and Ron Rawls’ attack on this monument is an attack on American Veterans, plain and simple,” Thate told those in attendance this morning. “Confederate Veterans get VA headstones, they are buried in National Cemeteries, including Arlington National Cemetery.”

During his comments, Thate called on the City of St. Augustine to reject Ron Rawls and the radical groups he has brought into town from Jacksonville and other cities. The telephone polling shows that there is strong support for the city commission’s decision to protect the memorial monument.

“We’re asking the City to rescind their contextualization plan. It won’t make the instigators happy and it will only fester more controversy into 2018,” Thate declared. “Ignore them like Pensacola, Brooksville, Marianna and other communities have done. If they’re ignored they’ll go away.”

Pacetti told Historic City News editor Michael Gold that the poll is highly targeted and reliable. There were nearly 500 responses recorded. Calls were only placed to registered voters with landline telephone numbers provided in the voter registration records. Further, Pacetti explained that only those voters who have reliably voted in every local election, known as “super voters”, qualified to participate in the poll.

In reviewing the poll results, we found that an overwhelming majority, 88.76% of voters, believe the City of St. Augustine should adopt a historic monument and memorial protection ordinance that would keep all monuments in place and increase punishment for vandalism. 86.89% of St. Augustine voters agreed with the City Commission’s decision to keep the Plaza de la Constitucion confederate memorial, and 91% of voters would support the elected City Commissioners for their decision.

Another member of the newly formed coalition is the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Commander of the William Loring Camp, James Kimbrough, addressed the audience.

“The Charge of the Sons of Confederate Veterans includes the defense of the Confederate Soldier’s good name, and the guardianship of his history.  Because of this we are united with the Save Our History coalition,” Kimbrough said. “The names on the memorial are men from this town, who responded to the call of their community to defend her from an invading force. This is no less than any of us would do today in the same situation.”

The final speaker was Carol Mickler-Watters. Several men from the Mickler family, one of the original Minorcan families who helped settle St Augustine, appear on the memorial.

“In 1870 the town of St. Augustine had bigger concerns than oppressing anyone, for it was itself being oppressed by the ravages of war,” Mickler-Watters said. “Forty-four of its male citizens went to war to defend their home, and they paid the ultimate price. Their remains were never returned for a proper burial. Many of their family members, like me, reside in St. Augustine today.”

State Representative Jay Fant was scheduled to speak but was unable to attend, however, he did send a statement to be read. Fant has introduced a bill in the legislature entitled the “Soldiers and Heroes Monuments and Memorial Protection Act” that would protect memorials in Florida.

Gravis Marketing conducted the statewide poll that is being used to support Fant’s proposed bill. It shows that 83% of Florida voters favor a Florida Law protecting war memorials, like these that are under attack.

Fant wrote that this is a state-wide problem. He wrote that when these memorials are put up, we promise never to forget — that they will be a permanent memory of service and sacrifice.

Fant believes memorials and monuments deserve the same reverence as a grave site. He acknowledged, “Yes, we are having trouble in Jacksonville.” Knowing that, Fant concluded, “That is one reason I sponsored and will work to ensure enactment of this bill.”

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