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Florida Legislature approves slavery memorial for Capitol

February 27, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The state of Florida plans to construct a memorial on the grounds of the Capitol that recognizes the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery.

The Florida Senate unanimously voted for a bill Tuesday to create the memorial and it now heads to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign the measure into law. The House passed the bill earlier this year.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Tampa Democrat and one of the bill sponsors, said the creation of the memorial will allow the state to tell its “joint history that we overcame, that we will never forget and that we must not repeat.” Rouson said that Florida — which became a state in 1845 — relied on slaves and that slavery created “painful remnants of our cultural blueprint.”

A large monument solely acknowledging slavery would be unique among state Capitols.

The Tennessee Capitol grounds have a small engraved plaque on a marble pedestal dedicating an oak tree to the memory of Africans who died on slave ships on the journey to North America.

Texas and South Carolina have monuments to African-American history in their states, including acknowledgements of slavery as well as other contributions black residents have made. Outside Georgia’s Capitol is a statue honoring black lawmakers who were elected after the Civil War but expelled by white lawmakers. It also commemorates slavery and other episodes of African-American history.

And the most famous piece of public art in Kansas is a mural in the statehouse that depicts abolitionist John Brown, whose violent attacks on slavery supporters helped spark the Civil War.

A similar bill to create a slavery memorial was proposed last year, but it died when it was blocked by a Republican senator who is a descendent of a Confederate soldier.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said he changed his mind about the memorial after he was given assurances about the potential cost and what would be included on the memorial. He said he became at “peace” with the memorial because supporters said it will not be a “tribute to slavery, but to the people who endured it.”

Last year Baxley told The Miami Herald that he did not want the memorial because it would “celebrate defeat.” He later said that he meant he did not want to “celebrate adversity.”

The legislation (HB 67) does not include a firm timeline for when the memorial will be constructed. Instead it orders the state agency that manages the Capitol complex to come up with a design and an estimated cost. The plan will be then be turned over to the governor and Legislature.

Florida’s Capitol grounds already have several memorials, including one that includes the names of law-enforcement officers who were killed while on duty. There is also a monument located near the old Capitol that is dedicated to local Confederate soldiers. The monument placed on the Capitol grounds in 1882 says at its base that it was built to commemorate the “heroic patriotism of the men of Leon County who perished in the Civil War.”

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