Both Sides Frustrated By Putnam County Confederate Monument Decision

Nov 12, 2020

After months of discussion, the Putnam County Board of Commissioners cast a final vote on the next steps regarding the Confederate statue outside of the County Courthouse.

The decision has left people on both sides of the issue disappointed and frustrated. 

In a 3-2 vote, the board decided that the statue would be relocated to Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park - but only if those who want it relocated are able to raise $200,000 in private funds within 90 days. 

The board also said the money can’t come from people outside of Putnam County.

“If they don't have it raised, and they haven't started raising it - the group or individual that wants to move it - then as far as I'm concerned, it's over with,” said Board Chair Terry Turner during the Tuesday workshop. “I don't want to hear about it anymore.”

The board heard nearly two hours of public comment, hearing from people both for and against the monument’s relocation. 

As the five board members entered discussion, people in the crowd interjected with their own opinions, and had to be told to stop multiple times. 

David McCallister is a spokesperson for Saving Southern Heritage, an organization with a goal of keeping Confederate monuments and symbols where they currently stand. He said he was disappointed with the board’s decision. 

“It's an attack on the monument, and its attack on Southern heritage because they're trying to tuck it away in a closet,” McCallister.  “Tuck it away. Out of sight, out of mind.” 

In October, the board created a committee to evaluate areas where the Confederate statue could go. The 11-person board decided on three main options - Veterans Memorial Park, Melrose Heritage Park in the town of Melrose, or leaving it where it stands outside of the courthouse. 

McCallister said he believes moving the monument will cost more than $200,000, along with potential for damaging it during the move. 

“This is really a cop out or sell out, because they're really selling the honor of Putnam County for $200,000, and that's just the beginning,” he said.

McCallister also believes money laundering will take place that will allow outside organizations and entities to help pay for the monument’s relocation, despite that not being allowed.

To combat that, the board said people who raise the funds will have to sign affidavits stating where the money is coming from. 

People who are for the monument’s relocation, like Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill, say that putting restrictions on where the money is coming from is “horrible.”

“Making a vote to remove the monument with an arbitrary $200,000 amount attached to it, with limitations on how funds could be raised... it was an insult to the citizenry as a whole,” Hill said.

Hill said he’s been trying to talk to the county commission about the monument for years, but rarely have they ever been open to discussion. 

He suggested that people won’t put money toward what he called a $200,000 “ransom.”

“There needs to be a realistic approach to what's in place,” Hill said. “There needs to be a situation where the county commission takes real quotes as to what the price to move this particular item from the place that it's in. And if the vote was made to move the monument, then there shouldn't be a timeline on healing.”

During the meeting, Turner and the board suspected that the move would cost more than $200,000, with a need for a new platform and foundation at Veterans Memorial Park. He said the $200,000 would show “their commitment to” removing the statue. 

“We are now putting a price tag on what's right, or what's wrong in our communities,” Hill said.

Overall, Hill said the decision the board made is just going to divide the county even further.

“Right now our community is torn apart,” Hill said. “My prayer is that this county commission will do what's in the best interest of all citizens, even those who may not necessarily represent the majority vote.”

County Commissioner Jeff Rawls came up with another proposal during the workshop that appeared to gain some traction among the rest of the board. 

A private fund would pay for the rerouting of sidewalks around the courthouse, essentially changing the location of the entrance, so people wouldn’t have to walk by the monument when going into the building.

Under his proposal, there would also be a plaque explaining the monument, along with the creation of another monument honoring Pvt. Robert Jenkins, an African American soldier during the Vietnam War who died protecting his fellow soldiers. 

Although his motion died when initially brought up, the board said they would be interested in creating the private fund and donating to it themselves if the $200,000 wasn’t raised to relocate the statue. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.