Strong opinions filled the Alachua County Commission meeting Tuesday as residents voiced their feelings on “Old Joe,” a statue of a Confederate soldier that stands in downtown Gainesville.
During the morning supporters and opponents of the statue came forward to make their cases.
The meeting follows a national dispute over Confederate symbols, which have been strongly called into question after nine people were killed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. More than 150 people crowded downtown on Thursday to protest the future of the statue.
Jesse Arost, a 29-year-old Gainesville resident, was the first to speak on the topic. Equipped with a petition and talking points, he said the statue represents the idea of white supremacy.
He said the statue is comparable to one that honors only those who died fighting for the Nazi Third Reich.
Arost told WUFT News that he has about 150 handwritten signatures on the petition he brought to the meeting.
He said he will continue to get more signatures, and he thinks the statue should be moved to a museum.
“There is no more central place that this statue could be put,” Arost said. “It is literally in the heart of town.”
When two other opponents proclaimed a similar opinion, Arost nodded his head aggressively in agreement.
But opponents of the statue were met with an outnumbering amount of support by those who want to keep the statue where it is. Several women donned stickers that read “Save Our Statue.” Some supporters attended the meeting wearing shirts with the Confederate flag on them.
David Acheson, Florida Department Chaplain of Camp #5 of Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, said he supports leaving the statue where it is. He said monuments or Confederate flags displayed as historical objects should be left alone.
He said his organization’s official stance on the issue is to support the flying of the Confederate flag as a symbol of history.
“We must remember so we don’t do it again,” Acheson said.
Lunelle Siegel drove from Tampa to express her thoughts on the statue. She said her family is from Gainesville, and she insists the statue stay where it is.
Siegel told WUFT News that it brings awareness to history. To those opposed to her view, she said they “need a history lesson.”
She said moving the statue would be disrespectful.
“It’s a slap in the face to veterans,” Siegel said.
Other supporters for the statue brought up points such as the Vietnam War or the idea of simply remembering history. Opponents of keeping the statue emphasized the slavery past associated with it.
One opponent mentioned how the United Daughters of Confederacy supported the Ku Klux Klan, which was met by laughter from supporters. Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV reminded them to be respectful of people who have the floor.
Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said he believes this issue belongs with the Board of County Commissioners, not with historians.
“It rests right here,” he said.