Letter: To the People of St Augustine

HK Edgerton
Asheville, NC

Dear Historic City News:

I am heartsick to hear that the City of St. Augustine has voted to remove the Solder’s Cenotaph in the historic Plaza de la Constitucion and that the city manager has the names on the memorial boxed up in plywood.  This is extreme desecration and disgraceful.

I heard Commissioner Freeman say that if just one black person had been for the Cenotaph, she would have voted to keep it.  Well, I am one.  And I ask, where has she been?  I have visited the city many times in support of the veteran memorial.

I denounce anyone who calls this memorial to veterans a symbol of hate, white supremacy, or racism. That cenotaph represents the blood of fallen heroes who died protecting us from an invasion – not to free my family or anyone else’s – but because the Northern invaders wanted their tribute and were willing to take up arms to get it back.

When Florida seceded from the Union, the Southern states contributed more than 80% of the federal treasury. When asked why he was making war on the South, US President Lincoln replied, “Who will pay the taxes?”

My ancestors went to war, like those named of the Cenotaph.  They answered the call to protect their families and their community from an illegal, immoral invasion.  I challenge the people in St. Augustine to look around and ask which of them would not do the same thing right now today if they were in the same situation.

There are NO good reasons to remove this 141-year-old historic artifact.  However, there are many reasons to keep the Cenotaph right where it is.  Removal might make someone feel better for a moment; but, after that moment is gone, how will its removal improve high school graduation rates, how will it reduce poverty, how will it improve housing, how will it create more jobs for Lincolnville residents?

I ask the City Commissioners what they are doing to improve the lives of the citizenry? Over the years I have learned that posers point fingers at bogeymen that they could do something about, simply to distract from important problems that they refuse to do anything about.

Succumbing to those with hate and resentment in their heart will not fix anything.  What it will do is fuel the fires of division between our Southern family that used to exist before the poverty pimps and race-baiters came into our communities to foment division.

Fix the schools, teach the babies to read – leave the Cenotaph and teach them that it represents the integrated Southern Army, men who loved St. Augustine so much they were willing to die for her.

The City needs a “do-over”.  And, this time, Commissioner Freeman needs to do the right thing and vote to restore the honor of those local soldiers that are honored on the Plaza Cenotaph.

HK Edgerton is past president of the NAACP in his hometown of Asheville, NC and has been a civil rights activist for half a century.