Recommendation for contextualization to be presented at July 9 city commission meeting
In the five months since the Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee (CMCAC) convened for the first time on February 7, the committee has spent over 20 hours in meetings discussing and dissecting the history of the city’s confederate war memorial which is located in the Plaza de la Constitucion. Beyond the public meetings, committee members spent countless hours of their personal time researching and preparing topic drafts for review and discussion.
More than simply knowing the facts behind the story of this monument, the committee shared a heartfelt obligation to understand the sentiment of the times during which it was built and to convey to the public the broader impact of what the monument was intended to represent.
The committee’s recommendation, which will be presented to the commission on July 9, will be to add four plaques, placed at the base of each side of the memorial. The plaques will share a brief story from history symbolizing the perspective from which the story is told. The four stories will have separate headings related to each story: Freedom, Sacrifice, Memory and Interpret.
Possible Symbolic Materials
Marquis Latimer & Halback, Inc., the consultant hired to design the modifications to the memorial, provided the committee with recommendations for materials for the construction chosen to contribute symbolically to each story.
- Iron: Symbolizes shackles and constraints used on slaves.
- Bronze: Representative of Civil War era cannons.
- Steel: Symbolic of the railroad construction in the late 19th century, an important contributor to St. Augustine’s economy and expansion.
- Marble: Representative of the church’s ownership of the land upon which the first memorial was built.
- Patterned Plexiglass: A synthetic material with a computer chip pattern representing the information age and lightning spread of information contributing to the national conversation about Confederate monuments.
“We place the plaques on concrete or monument stone (granite) bases with a goal of blending in with the current monument. Each base is embedded with symbolic material representing further context overheard during committee discussions relating to the presented narrative. Symbolic materials provide a visual and tactile connection to the text and engage the viewer’s curiosity.” [Carter Gresham, Marquis Latimer & Halbeck, Inc.]
North Plaque: St. Augustine during the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation
Our nation’s Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. Battles did not come to St. Augustine, but Union troops occupied the city in March 1862. They remained through the end of the war and Reconstruction.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation decreed that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State….in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The Proclamation formalized the freedoms that enslaved people had claimed for themselves since the arrival of Union troops. On New Year’s Day, 1864, the Proclamation’s first anniversary was celebrated in this Plaza, where the Confederate Monument would later stand.
The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution brought new possibilities to St. Augustine’s black residents earlier than other areas of the Confederacy: to own property, to marry legally, to learn to read and write, and for men, to vote and hold public office.
South Plaque: St. Augustine Men Fought on Both Sides
White men in St. Augustine formed militias which joined the Confederate Florida regiments and fought in Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. Only a handful remained to surrender in 1865. Many others were buried in graves far from home.
Black men in St. Augustine were among the first to join black fighting units in the Civil War as early as 1862. Local black men headed to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to join volunteer regiments. These forces were later designated the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
The USCT fought in segregated units led by white officers. They raided coastal areas, liberated thousands of enslaved persons, and in 1863 the Colored Troops led the way in occupying Jacksonville, Florida, and in 1865 restored the Stars and Stripes to Fort Sumter, South Carolina, where the war began.
East Plaque: The Monument as a Memorial
This 1879 obelisk replaces one originally built on South St. George Street in 1872. It is the second oldest Confederate monument in the state of Florida. The Ladies Memorial Association of St. Augustine raised private funds to construct the memorial to honor the town’s men who died in service of the Confederate States of America.
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.
For many years on Confederate Memorial Day, April 26th, the ladies of the Memorial Association decorated the monument with flowers. As decades passed, the memorial blended into the Plaza’s landscape. The City of St. Augustine respects the historical and emotional importance of this memorial.
West Plaque: Changing View Points of the Monument
The public’s response to the display of Confederate monuments from the 1870s through the Civil Rights era and beyond remains deeply personal, emotional, and divisive. Some view this memorial as a noble reminder of personal sacrifice; others interpret it as a painful reminder of the re-assertion of white supremacy.
Why are monuments and memorials important? They convey what a community feels and honors, and reflect the values of its people. Monuments and memorials reflect the social and political context of their time. Those perspectives and interpretations change over time, and this monument is no exception.
The obelisk honors local loved ones who gave up their lives in service of the Confederate states. Yet in all these Confederate state constitutions, black people were legally regarded as human property. This memorial is a reminder of the diverse legacies of the Civil War.
To learn more about the work of the Confederate Memorial Contextualization Advisory Committee, including information on its members, meeting agendas and minutes, video recording of its meetings and additional resource material, visit www.CityStAug.com/Memorial.
The committee’s recommendations will be presented at the St. Augustine City Commission’s regular meeting on Monday, July 9 in The Alcazar Room, City Hall, 75 King St. The meeting begins at 5:00pm and may be seen live on GTV/Comcast channel 3 and at www.CityStAugTV.com, where it will be available for on-demand the day after the meeting.
For more information about the committee’s work, contact the City Clerk’s office at 904.825.1007.