Manager John Regan announced to the members of the St Augustine City Commission last October that he had a plan to “contextualize” the history of the 1879 memorial in the Plaza de la Constitution after commissioners voted unanimously not to remove the monument from its current location.
Historic City News first reported the formation of Regan’s “Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee” when it convened on February 7th.
The committee’s recommendations will be presented at the regular meeting of the St. Augustine City Commission on Monday, July 9 in the Alcazar Room, City Hall, 75 King Street. The meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. and may be seen live on GTV/Comcast channel 3 and at CityStAugTV.com, where it will also be available for on-demand viewing the day after the meeting.
The committee has finished its work. They will make a recommendation to the commission on July 9th. The media was provided with an advance look at the recommendation. The commission may:
- adopt the recommendation
- modify the recommendation
- come up with their own recommendation
- do nothing further at all
Marquis Latimer & Halback, Inc., the consultant hired before the recommendation was presented to the commission to “design the modifications to the memorial”, provided the committee with recommendations for materials for the construction chosen to contribute symbolically to each story.
Of course, Marquis Halback gave Michelle Regan, the city manager’s daughter, employment to gather some credentials after graduating from University of Florida before she moved to West Palm Beach in 2012. In 2013, she went to work for another city contractor, Cotleur & Hearing in Jupiter. You may recall John Regan being called before the commission to explain the conflict with his daughter after another city project at Cotleur & Hearing was discovered.
Recommended by the committee:
Add four plaques, placed at the base of each side of the memorial. The plaques will share a brief story from history symbolizing the perspective from which the story is told. The four stories will have separate headings related to each story: Freedom, Sacrifice, Memory and Interpret.
Marquis Latimer & Halback suggests using the following materials in construction because of the symbolic meanings:
- Iron: Symbolizes shackles and constraints used on slaves.
- Bronze: Representative of Civil War era cannons.
- Steel: Symbolic of the railroad construction in the late 19th century, an important contributor to St. Augustine’s economy and expansion.
- Marble: Representative of the church’s ownership of the land upon which the first memorial was built.
- Patterned Plexiglass: A synthetic material with a computer chip pattern representing the information age and lightning spread of information contributing to the national conversation about Confederate monuments.
North Plaque: St. Augustine during the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation
Our nation’s Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. Battles did not come to St. Augustine, but Union troops occupied the city in March 1862. They remained through the end of the war and Reconstruction.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation decreed that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State….in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The Proclamation formalized the freedoms that enslaved people had claimed for themselves since the arrival of Union troops. On New Year’s Day, 1864, the Proclamation’s first anniversary was celebrated in this Plaza, where the Confederate Monument would later stand.
The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution brought new possibilities to St. Augustine’s black residents earlier than other areas of the Confederacy: to own property, to marry legally, to learn to read and write, and for men, to vote and hold public office.
South Plaque: St. Augustine Men Fought on Both Sides
White men in St. Augustine formed militias which joined the Confederate Florida regiments and fought in Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. Only a handful remained to surrender in 1865. Many others were buried in graves far from home.
Black men in St. Augustine were among the first to join black fighting units in the Civil War as early as 1862. Local black men headed to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to join volunteer regiments. These forces were later designated the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
The USCT fought in segregated units led by white officers. They raided coastal areas, liberated thousands of enslaved persons, and in 1863 the Colored Troops led the way in occupying Jacksonville, Florida, and in 1865 restored the Stars and Stripes to Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the war began.
East Plaque: The Monument as a Memorial
This 1879 obelisk replaces one originally built on South St. George Street in 1872. It is the second oldest Confederate monument in the state of Florida. The Ladies Memorial Association of St. Augustine raised private funds to construct the memorial to honor the town’s men who died in service of the Confederate States of America.
Its marble plaques were once attached to the 1872 Confederate memorial. The plaques list the names of forty-six men, many of whom were of Minorcan or Spanish descent, a reflection of St. Augustine’s diverse ethnic heritage.
For many years on Confederate Memorial Day, April 26th, the ladies of the Memorial Association decorated the monument with flowers. As decades passed, the memorial blended into the Plaza’s landscape. The City of St. Augustine respects the historical and emotional importance of this memorial.
West Plaque: Changing View Points of the Monument
The public’s response to the display of Confederate monuments from the 1870s through the Civil Rights era and beyond remains deeply personal, emotional, and divisive. Some view this memorial as a noble reminder of personal sacrifice; others interpret it as a painful reminder of the re-assertion of white supremacy.
Why are monuments and memorials important? They convey what a community feels and honors and reflect the values of its people. Monuments and memorials reflect the social and political context of their time. Those perspectives and interpretations change over time, and this monument is no exception.
The obelisk honors local loved ones who gave up their lives in service of the Confederate states. Yet in all these Confederate state constitutions, black people were legally regarded as human property. This memorial is a reminder of the diverse legacies of the Civil War.