The fate of Old Joe is still undecided.
County commissioner Ken Cornell made a motion for a new plan Tuesday to keep the Old Joe Confederate soldier statue in its present space instead of sending it to the Matheson History Museum.
Cornell proposed honoring African American Union soldiers who served in the Civil War with a new statue next to Old Joe. He suggested the county work with the Alachua County Historical Commission, citizen groups and stakeholders to create ideas and funds.
His intent: provide back-up options in case the proposal to move the statue to the Matheson falls through.
“I think there is benefit of having a parallel path going on,” Cornell said.
Matheson Executive Director Peggy McDonald said a committee will meet next week to draft a counterproposal for the commissioners. She said the committee will consist of two attorneys, a retired law professor and others who are experienced in drafting proposals like this.
McDonald said the new proposal would address logistics and find someone to lead fundraising efforts. She said the Matheson never said no to taking the statue originally; the museum just said no to the contract’s terms.
“For the record, the history museum did not object to the idea of the statue coming to the Matheson,” she said, “but clearly objected to the language in the agreement where all of the financial cost would be … (on) the museum.”
At a county commission meeting Tuesday evening, citizens spoke on both sides of the issue.
Lynn Coullias, a member of the Historical Commission, told commissioners she would want the statue to stay where it is or be moved to Veterans Park. Coullias said that the Old Joe statue should be looked at as a veteran memorial.
Instead of moving Old Joe, she said the verbiage on the statue should be changed by either sandblasting it off or by covering it with a brass plaque and making it more politically sensitive.
“I think that we could use this as a teaching tool and teach people,” Coullias said. “Because if we don’t learn from the history of what we’ve done, we’re bound to repeat it.”
Faye Williams has been a vocal advocate for the statue’s move. She said the Matheson is willing to take Old Joe, and the funding would not be an issue, making the move the right decision to her.
Williams projected an image of four African American men being lynched and a picture of an African American man being burned alive in front of a crowd of white men to illustrate what past southern eras were like for African Americans.
“This is what that Confederate soldier represents to me: this,” Williams said pointing at the pictures. “I think, at this point, we need to be about listening, learning, teaching and then acting.”
McDonald said the Matheson’s goal is to have a counterproposal ready as soon as possible – possibly for the next county commission meeting on Feb. 23 at 9 a.m., with a public hearing at 6 p.m.