Visceral debate follows withdrawn Confederate names to Hall
By Lloyd Dunkelberger, Herald-Tribune
Friday, July 29, 2011
William Faulkner, the great Southern writer, once wrote: “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
And that certainly applies to Southern states, including Florida and its history in the Civil War. That link was reinforced this week when a controversial list of the inaugural group of nominees for Florida’s Veterans’ Hall of Fame included six governors who fought with the Confederacy during the war.
The list, which originally also included Gov. Rick Scott and was comprised of the 22 governors who had military service, was criticized for its lack of diversity and has since been withdrawn, with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs promising to develop a new list with a broader range of candidates.
The incident reignited a visceral debate that often occurs in Southern states when the past is raised in issues such as license plates honoring the Confederates or flying the Confederate flag in some public capacity.
Not even President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, has been able to sidestep the controversy. In his first year as president, a group of academics urged him not to lay a wreath at a Confederate monument at the Arlington National Cemetery — which has been done since Woodrow Wilson’s administration — as part of a Memorial Day ceremony.
Reflecting his strength or weakness as a leader, Obama found a compromise. He sent a wreath to the Confederate monument as well as a wreath to a monument honoring African-American soldiers in the Civil War.
I wrote a story this week about the Confederates on Florida’s Veterans’ Hall of Fame list that drew a strong response from some readers.
Some thought it was unfair to criticize the Confederates.
“I say that bashing the ‘good guys’ just because they served in this army, or that one; or stood for this now ‘frowned upon’ principle or that, depending on the ‘race baiter’ who chooses to voice contempt for what-ever un-savory event that may have happened, or didn’t, in our country’s past, is a destructive trend that has to STOP,” wrote a reader who identified himself as “Nathan Bedford Forrest,” the name of the Confederate general who founded the Ku Klux Klan.
“Good Grief, sir! I guess we should just have these veterans dug up and burned at the stake!!!!!” a woman from Tampa wrote. “These men fought for Florida not for slavery. I’m so tired of this!”
Others called for more diversity in the nominees for the Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
Raymond A. Eberling, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel living in Branford, suggested including Daniel “Chappie” James, a Pensacola native and the first African-American to serve as a four-star general, or Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor who had a long career in the Navy, on the list of nominees.
Eberling said not considering a wider range of candidates but including some like Scott — who has since been removed from consideration — would be “a shame for all those unknown Florida veterans who have served their country over the years.”
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who was sharply critical of the original list, said the state can do a lot better job in finding a wider range of nominees for the military honor.
“This is 2011 and we’ve had every race and every ethnicity to serve in a war,” Joyner said.
“Diversity does not happen by happenstance,” she said. “It happens by choice. And the first criteria should have been: let’s make sure that the veterans that we select represent the population and the diversity of the state of Florida.”