With four-of-five St Augustine city commissioners showing no interest in overturning their unanimous 2018-decision to protect the now 121-year-old memorial to Confederate soldiers in the city’s Plaza de la Constitucion, commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline seized the opportunity during Monday night’s meeting to betray her false commitment to historic preservation.
Thousands of citizens signed petitions, collected in 2018 by St Augustine resident Jill Pacetti and others, while more wrote letters or sent e-mail in favor of keeping the memorial and keeping it from being moved. Some, including Sikes-Kline at the time, said the memorial was a way people honored their loved ones who didn’t have a proper burial. People also raised concerns about destroying history for the sake of political correctness.
In October 2018, Sikes-Kline, along with the rest of the Commission, voted in favor of keeping the monument and adding “historical context” to the site via plaques; a course of action supported by city manager John Regan.
However, within weeks of the commission decision, Sikes-Kline, who holds herself out as the champion of historic preservation in St Augustine, was already changing her tune — suggesting that the commission should rethink its still-new course of action. By that time, the city manager had already committed to a hand-picked blue-ribbon panel to propose contextualization.
“What will it take for us to see the need to make a change, to move the Confederate monument from the heart of the Plaza?”, Sikes-Kline asked fellow commissioners after a dozen public speakers voiced their dissatisfaction with the memorial. “Not to destroy the monument, but to move it to what I would view as a more appropriate place?”
She got her response from the mayor, who suggested that many matters before the commission might be more efficiently handled through workshops. Upchurch was not immediately inclined to take up the topic. Upchurch responded, “We should use more workshops, and this would be an appropriate subject for that.”
Sikes-Kline added that she believes there is a problem when she hears citizens tell her that they hurt when they come downtown. “Don’t we want everyone to feel welcome in the heart of our town, in or most symbolic, civic space?” Sikes-Kline asked.
Sikes-Kline offered no plan on how to prevent damage to the irreplaceable authentic historic artifact if she was to get her way. She also offered no plan on how to pay for the cost of the move. LeAnne Feagin, treasurer of the reconstituted non-profit, Ladies Memorial Association of St. Augustine Inc, explained to Historic City News that when the late Anna Maria Dummett was president, the organization raised private funds to cover the costs to construct the memorial to honor the town’s Confederate veterans.
The 1879 obelisk which stands today, replaced one originally built on South St. George Street in 1872. It is the second-oldest memorial to Confederate veterans in the State of Florida. 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.
“We have a lot of things that we never get to just be a group in a more casual environment, where the five of you can talk and that allows the type of collaboration that is helpful in guiding us on where you want us to go from a policy point of view,” Regan said, apparently unaware or unconcerned about the requirements of Florida’s broad sunshine laws.
Regan offered to discuss the idea further with individual commissioners and city staff.