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St. Augustine City Manager Recommends 7 For Confederate Memorial Advisory Comm

PlazaDeLaConstitucion.jpg
Joseph K. Oppermann - Architect, P.A.
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The St. Augustine city manager is recommending seven people to sit on the newly-created Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee.

The proposed group is made up mostly of academics and historic preservationists.

“I am confident that those named will bring a lot to the table including a wide range of skills, experience, and educational backgrounds. Also, and maybe most importantly, they bring a willingness to embrace this task and work together on behalf of their community and its history and its future,” wrote City Manager John Regan in a Wednesday news release.

Regan chose the seven people from a pool of close to 40 applicants. He said the purpose of the committee is to recontextualize the city’s lone Confederate monument, but it will not have the power to remove it.

Activists maintain the committee misses the point.

“I’m not really impressed. I mean the whole process is a joke,” St. Augustine Rev. Rawn Rawls of St. Paul AME Church said.

Rawls has led the calls to remove the monument from downtown’s Plaza de La Constitución.

He said he doesn’t have anything against the people Regan chose — among them are four academics with roots in Southern history and a county recreation supervisor lauded for his charity work.

J. Michael Butler is a Flagler College history professor who’s researched 20th century Southern history with an emphasis on the Civil Rights Movement. Elizabeth Dove is an adjunct history professor also with Flagler College, as is Thomas Graham — an emeritus professor of history and past president of the St. Augustine Historical Society. He also served on the board of directors of the Florida Historical Society. Rounding out the academics is Susan Parker who is a former director of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a current Flagler faculty member who studied the colonial United States and Latin America.

Regan also chose Regina Gayle Philips who is the director of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, which highlights the history and contributions of one of the city’s oldest traditionally African-American neighborhoods.

City Council will vote on whether to seat retired St. Johns County school teacher Sharyn Wilson Smith Coley and current St. Johns County recreation supervisor Thomas Jackson. Jackson has deep roots in the St. Augustine community, even being profiled by The St. Augustine Record for his charity work with the Fort Mose Historical Society and the St. Benedict the Moor School Preservation Association, among a swath of other groups.

Rawls argues there’s no point to the committee, as qualified as they may be, if they can’t choose to take the monument down.

“They just put together a committee to make themselves feel good. It’s a bandage that’ll cover … but we’re going to continue to do what we do and we’re going to cause disruption,” he said.

Rawls has been particularly critical of Mayor Nancy Shaver who in December told WJCT News she didn’t believe the monument in St. Augustine is quite the same as the ones erected across the south to intimidate black people during the Jim Crow era.

“Those are the monuments that have been taken down elsewhere — specifically the “lost cause” monuments.” When you move to St. Augustine, what we have is a memorial on our plaza that was contemporaneous with the end of the Civil War that has the names of the Confederate dead from St. Augustine,” she said.

Rawls disagrees with Shaver’s characterization, pointing out the plaza monument was paid for by a precursor to the group Daughters of the Confederacy.

The City Council has to give final approval to Regan’s choices, and while they mull it over next week, Rawls said his group will be outside calling for the monument’s removal.

The idea for the committee came out of an October city council meeting following a national wave of protests over confederate monuments.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.