An organization formed to preserve Southern heritage released a poll today that says a large majority of Lakeland residents want to keep the Confederate monument in Munn Park and believe it’s disrespectful to discuss relocating it.

The poll was funded by Save Southern Heritage Florida and conducted by Gravis Marketing of Winter Garden (background on Gravis).

The 442 respondents to the poll, chosen from among residents who had voted in elections, were overwhelmingly white (89 percent) and older than 65 (69 percent).

Among the findings: 86 percent of respondents oppose moving the statue that was placed in the middle of Munn Park in 1910, and 79 percent think discussing the topic is disrespectful.

This photo of the Munn Park Confederate monument was taken Sept. 3, 2017, moments before the start of a silent vigil protesting it. About 50 people joined the protest, and a half-dozen counter-protesters showed up.

The poll results were announced at a news conference in Munn Park this morning (LkldNow was not invited) at which participants called on city commissioners to cancel an upcoming meeting scheduled to get public comment on the monument’s future.

Commissioners set up the meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at the RP Funding Center after Commissioner Don Selvage told his colleagues that discussions throughout the South about the future of Confederate monuments compel a local conversation.

In order to keep the discussion at the Nov. 14 meeting on track, Selvage has suggested asking speakers to make their case for one of six options:

  • Retain the monument as it is.
  • Place an interpretive plaque at the site, telling the story of the monument.
  • Erect other monuments in Munn Park that tell the story of others who contributed to Lakeland’s history.
  • Remove the statue from all public spaces, offering it to a private owner.
  • Place the statue in another city-owned venue such as Veterans Park, Roselawn Cemetery or the Lakeland Public Library.
  • Include the monument in a heritage park as one of various monuments that tell Lakeland’s history. One possible site would be near the volunteerism sculpture at Lake Mirror.

Lakeland resident Gail Jessee, who said she represents a group called Save Our Statue, said at today’s news conference, “This meeting is a public invitation for disruptive groups to converge on our wonderful town. As a resident of Lakeland, we do not want to have a Charlottesville, Ferguson or Baltimore happen here.”

Afterward, she told The Ledger, her group was “in favor of having an added monument to explain the other side, of the blacks,” an apparent reference to a solution suggested by civic volunteer Ashley Troutman at a recent City Commission meeting.

A news release from Save Southern Heritage Florida singled out two candidates for Lakeland City Commission as supporters of keeping the monument in place. They are Ricky Shirah, a candidate for the at-large seat who held a sign at today’s rally that read, “Americans build monuments; they don’t remove them,” and Michael Dunn, who is running for the southwest district seat.

In a LkldNow poll of the 15 candidates for mayor and city published last week, seven candidates said they favor relocating the monument, five said they are opposed, and three said they are undecided.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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  1. If we let stones define us, we will never be more than stones. If history has a place and a purpose – ( a debate for another moment ) – perhaps it serves us best if it is collected and connected in a safe place designed to make it available and instructive. A place of context and completeness. If that place is the center of our city then, as a matter of context and completeness, we ought to add the missing pieces of the era in which it arose, and make it truly historic.

    But now we must decide. Now we must become better than stones. Now we must consider our community and decide that humans are more important than ideals or ideas. Our neighbors have asked to have the city remove a symbol that they feel diminishes them and I believe we should honor those feelings without diminishing those who feel otherwise. This act of consideration, compassion, and understanding can give us all a renewed sense of community which will ultimately give us all more opportunity to become our better selves.

    We are not statues.

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