Ed Poppel, the University of Florida’s liaison to the Board of Directors of UF Historic St Augustine, Inc., said it all when he said in an interview after Wednesday’s special board meeting, “I heard nothing today in the discussion that would suggest relocation, removal, or in any way altering the Loring Monument.”
Despite a previous contentious meeting, peppered with guests who conflated a memorial to General William Wing Loring as “institutional racism”, the final meeting to review more than a dozen potential options before the direct service organization managing the state’s historic properties ended in consensus — the gravesite and memorial of the Confederate general that bears the image of a Confederate flag in one of St Augustine’s most prominent places will remain there.
“We get into real shaky, muddy ground when we leave our mission, and our mission is simply to reveal history, educate people about history, and not make judgments,” Board member Bill Proctor said. His recommendation to leave the monument alone and avoid political debate was considered by many as the only sensible solution to recent criticism never debated in a hundred years since the memorial was constructed.
Jill Pacetti, a mother of two and local businesswoman seeking her first election to a seat on St Augustine’s city commission, told Historic City News that she was impressed with Dr. Proctor’s ability to see through the smoke and focus on our obligation to teach the history of the city. Pacetti, who considers herself a history buff, is homeschooling her daughter and appreciated the leadership Proctor has shown.
Also attending Wednesday’s meeting was Bill McClure, a former member of St Johns County’s board of commissioners and now a candidate for mayor. He also had praise for Dr. Proctor’s remarks. He told Historic City News that even though he is seeking political office, Proctor’s advice for the service organization to avoid political debate and not make judgments, may have been the “quote of the day”.
“I can’t control the fact that people see that Confederate flag on the side of that monument and wish to interpret that as a dedicated monument to the Confederacy. I don’t interpret it that way,” Board member Herschel Shepard, a well-known architect with historic preservation experience, said. In his opinion, Shepard said the fact that the memorial is a major figure in St Augustine overshadows the fact that part of the monument can be interpreted in different ways. He said that he does not want any physical aspect of the Loring memorial changed.
Despite abusive attempts at intimidation at the hands of St Paul AME leader Ronald Rawls, Jr., of Gainesville, whose wife Meshon works for the University and is seeking a seat on the bench as a county judge, the City of St Augustine decided last October to keep the memorial to local soldiers who served in the Confederacy and died away from home.
Rawls has continued his domineering abuse of local residents and businessowners, continuing to beat the drum, demanding that the “racist statues” be taken down. He leads a procession of Jacksonville activists that includes members of several protest groups as well as supporters of the violent group ANTIFA and the New Black Panther Party.
The city invited several volunteer historians and educators to participate on a committee to recommend “contextualization” options for 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. Committee chairman Thomas Jackson said Wednesday morning that those efforts are probably about a month or two away from a recommendation.
Poppel concluded that, later, UF Historic St Augustine could look at contextualization of Loring Memorial Park. UF officials previously waited for the City of St Augustine to decide the fate of the Plaza memorial before beginning a discussion about what to do with the Loring memorial.