Michael Butler, who teaches at Flagler College, says people may interpret differently the meaning of the 1879 Civil War veterans memorial. But, he says, you can’t change history.
However, a lawsuit against the city says the monument does not vindicate the Civil War, but instead it remembers the loss and sorrow of losing someone in the war. The plaintiffs in the case include thirty-eight descendants of the forty-six veterans whose names are memorialized.
“Removing Confederate monuments is meant to correct a historical record,” Butler says by claiming they were all used to rewrite history. “The government these men served seceded to preserve the institution of human slavery. Period.”
After the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, St Augustine city manager John Regan was frightened because of threats to “disrupt business as usual” and bring violence to him — and the city. The New Black Panthers organization sent a leader from Jacksonville to march with Rev. Ronald Rawls, demanding that the historic memorial be taken down and removed from the 20’x20′ corner which it has occupied for more that 140-years.
The city commission, under the leadership of Mayor Nancy Shaver, stood up to Rawls and delivered an undivided, 5-0 vote — not to remove or take down the historic artifact that was paid for using money donated to the Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine. Sitting on that commission, voting to save the memorial two years ago, was vice-mayor Leanna Freeman and commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline.
Even with his clear bias against the memorial, in 2018, Butler was handpicked by the city manager as part of a “Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Board”. This was ostensibly a group of people with diverse backgrounds in search of a way to tell a “deeper more inclusive history of the Civil War.”
Butler claims members of the Blue-Ribbon Panel concluded that they needed four different interpretive plaques attached to the monument to achieve what Butler considered proper contextualization. “The city selected a group of citizens that gave it meaning,” Butler said. “So, the city went through with all of that.”
However, now Butler is speaking out to say, “It’s important to put this monument into context, again; with what is happening around the country, today”. Now he believes it is time for the memorial to come down.
Apparently, Rawls’ re-fueled hate rhetoric moved the city commission to re-vote the issue, this time reaching a 3-2 split vote; deciding to remove the Confederate memorial in the Plaza de la Constitution. The new mayor, Tracy Upchurch, went public before the vote and was able to persuade both Freeman and Sikes-Kline to rescind their previous votes to protect the memorial.