This week, one of seven of St Augustine City Manager John Regan’s hand-picked panelist, chosen to serve on an ostensibly impartial, unbiased and “balanced” committee, whose task it was to recommend “contextualization” of the city’s 1879 American Civil War memorial, tried to marginalize Mayor Nancy Shaver’s reaction to his recommendation to use inflammatory language on plaques proposed to be attached to the 139-year-old historic artifact.
Despite receiving his education in Alabama and Mississippi, ranked 44th and 47th out of 50 states in terms of top-performing school systems in America (WalletHub 2017), Flagler College teacher Michael Butler considers himself smarter than everyone else when it comes to the confederacy, slavery, civil rights and southern history.
His apparent racist compulsion, seeking to teach his students that white people are somehow to blame for all the social ills of the negro in America, provoked him to dress-down the mayor for being the only elected official at the commission table to vote against a plan that would insult the memories of more than forty local families by stating that their ancestors, who lost their lives in battle and were never returned home for burial, will be remembered as white supremacists.
The text of the e-mail obtained by Historic City News follows:
On Jul 13, 2018, at 10:22 AM, Butler, Michael <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I just wanted to reach out and clarify some things that came up during the comments given after our Contextualization presentation ended. We did not have a chance to respond and, now that emotions have subsided a bit from the more reasonable in the room, I wanted to make a couple of important points/clarifications.
In terms of simplifying the contextualization…. well, that’s just impossible. A contradiction, in fact. We were given a broad task, by your own admission, that a simplistic rendering would not have come close to addressing. In fact, my point of view is not addressing the complexities of contextualization would have made the final product more problematic, not less. It’s a matter of opinion, to be sure, but a 200-word contextualization would have created more problems than it would have solved. ‘Contextualization’ – to analyze, study, or identify an item’s importance and meaning to people over time – is much different that providing a brief description or a definition. For more on the difficulties we face with these issues, please read the “Statement on Confederate Memorials” that the National Trust for Historic Preservation issued last year.
As you may recall from one of our past meetings, the committee had a spirited discussion about the difference between a memorial and a monument. The literature on the topic is very clear, and I cited those works in our meeting where the issue was addressed: When a memorial is moved AND when it is moved changes its status from memorial to monument. Because of its history, and the fact that it was moved to PUBLIC land AFTER formal Reconstruction in the south ended, it is technically a monument. The scholarship concludes that while a structure can be both a monument and memorial (as I would classify ours), circumstances surrounding its history means that ours is not a memorial alone.
Ours IS a Lost Cause-era monument. The historical scholarship on this issue is very clear and disputed by no reputable expert in the field. The work of Gaines Foster, Charles R. Wilson, David Blight, Karen Cox, and many, many others, demonstrate that while the monument-building apex of the Lost Cause occurred between 1890-1920, the historical phase itself (and Confederate memorialization movement itself) began almost as soon as the war ended. I addressed that issue in one of our meetings.
I hope you noticed the irony, as Commissioner Freeman pointed out, of the fact that well over 25% of those who spoke at the meeting did not reside in St. Augustine. Often the same people who railed against “outside agitators.” And accused us of being “biased” and “having an agenda.” While wearing Confederate-themed shirts and “Make America Great Again” hats. The outside agitators who have a clear political agenda should not be considered equal to those who live in our community and believe in the politics of compromise.
Dr. Kevin Levin, an expert in the field of this very topic, informed me that you spoke last week. I’m surprised you didn’t bring this up in your comments, as his recommendations and conclusions were very interesting. And seemed to contradict your public comments.
Please re-read the often maligned “white supremacy” line in context. To say that “some” view any monuments dedicated to the memories of those who died while waging war against the USA as a “reassertion of white supremacy” is beyond dispute and, again, I ask you to read the NTHP statement in which they use the same term. Those who are offended by the term probably should be.
If you are interested in this history, I’d recommended giving Dr. Blight’s Open Course on “The Civil War and Reconstruction” through Yale University a chance. It’s great!
With all of that aside, I hope you’ll come to appreciate what our committee has accomplished. We have addressed an issue that divides our region – and nation – is a way that is unique, informed, and historically balanced. We didn’t want to tell people what to think. We simply gave them the opportunity to think, if they choose.
Dr. J. Michael Butler
Kenan Distinguished Professor of History
74 King Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084