FLORENCE — The Lauderdale County Commission said Monday the city of Florence owns the Confederate monument in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse, prompting Mayor Steve Holt to respond after the meeting that he will recommend moving the statue to the Soldier's Rest in Florence City Cemetery.
The mayor made the comments after a lengthy commission meeting, during which people spoke on both sides of the issue regarding moving the monument with the majority favoring its move to Soldier's Rest.
"I'm happy to recommend that to the council," Holt said following the meeting.
He said the next council meeting is July 7 and he believes the council would vote in favor of the move at that meeting.
"I would think that we would not delay it, and act on it accordingly to relocate the statue," Holt said.
He said there are logistics to deal with as part of the process.
"I'm told it weighs 17 tons," Holt said. "Soldier's Rest is a beautiful area and well maintained and there's a place for it, but we'll have to pour a pretty significant concrete pad for it and that's going to take a few days just for that. We also need to talk to some people about how to move it."
City leaders also are looking into whether there is a need for official county authorization for the city to get on the property for the work involved in removing it from the courthouse, so the county would not be held liable if any accident occurs during the process.
Monday's meeting was held in the fifth-floor courtroom of the courthouse to allow more members of the public to attend. Due to social distancing regulations, only about 40 or so were in the courtroom at once, but many residents left after making comments to allow others to come in and comment.
Officials estimated 70 to 75 people attended at one point or another in the meeting.
Two weeks ago, Commissioner Brad Holmes moved to add an agenda item at that meeting to move the monument to the Soldier's Rest, but the motion failed because it did not receive unanimous consent.
Lauderdale County Commission Chairman Danny Pettus said Monday he had a letter from Suzanna E. Rawlins, Alabama Division president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that stated the organization gave the statue to the city in the early 1900s and therefore the organization has no claim on it.
The letter also states the Daughters of the Confederacy agrees that a "dignified memorial may be held when the statue is moved in order that the statue is treated with the reverence and respect it is due."
It also acknowledges that a benefactor has agreed to fund the moving and placing of the statue.
"The city of Florence owns it, and this commission will leave it up to the city of Florence to decide what, if anything, it might do with that monument," Pettus said.
A crowd outside the courthouse cheered Holt's statement following the meeting. Camille Bennett, founder and executive director of Project Say Something, which first recommended moving the statue to the Soldier's Rest, said she is pleased by the progress.
"I'm just feeling somewhat hopeful that the process will speed up to get it down," Bennett said.
People spoke for some 90 minutes during the commission meeting.
"The Confederate states were defeated as treasonous," the Rev. Billy Ray Simpson said. "Everything dead needs to be buried in the cemetery."
However, Clint Freeman said the statue has special meaning to many residents.
"There's also a lot of people who love that statue," Freeman said. "There's people who love that statue because that represents their ancestors."
He also pointed out a 2017 state law makes it illegal to move the statue and other monuments that have been at a location for more than 40 years. The law comes with a $25,000 fine, which city officials said private donors have committed to pay.
Freeman said he worries about possible next steps. "They're going to start wanting the Alabama flag taken down next," he said.
Eartis Bridges pointed out the commission meeting started with everyone reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance.”
Bridges, who is black, zeroed in on the word "indivisible" in the pledge.
"It means not to be divided or separated," he said. "So, unless you consider me not a man, then you can't be separated from me and the pains that I feel and the disgust that I see."
Reed Watson, who co-owns Single Lock Records, spoke of the history of racial harmony in what has become a famous local music industry. He said Sound Diplomacy did a study that showed the local economic impact of the music industry is $49 million.
Watson said people from around the world come to the Shoals because of that.
"Have you seen a lot of Confederate monument tourism here lately?" he asked, adding that monuments such as the one at the courthouse could be having a negative impact on the community.
Bennett pointed out the speech that was made during the monument's dedication declared whites are above blacks and referred to blacks as "mongrels."
Ricky Johnson said the monument represents those who died in the Civil War and the loved ones they left behind.
"The statue honors them, the children who never saw their daddy," Johnson said. "The statue has nothing to say. It just stands for the dead."
Wesley Thompson said he has children ages 3 and 4 and they are inquisitive. He wonders what he will say when they ask him what the statue is about.
"How do I respond?" Thompson asked. "I just want you to put yourself in my shoes."