Here’s what Manatee, Bradenton residents said about Confederate statue’s possible return

As Manatee County officials debate whether to return a Confederate monument, a survey of Bradenton Herald readers shows the statue remains a polarizing subject.

The Board of County Commissioners previously voted in 2017 to remove the statue following a protest, but new board members recently expressed interest in restoring it to its original location outside the historic Manatee County Courthouse in downtown Bradenton.

We asked readers to share their thoughts on that idea, and out of about 500 votes, 52% said they would prefer to see the statue brought back.

In January, five board members — Commissioners James Satcher, Kevin Van Ostenbridge, Mike Rahn, Vanessa Baugh and Jason Bearden — said they were in favor of restoring the monument. Two of their colleagues, Commissioners Amanda Ballard and George Kruse, were opposed to the idea.

Amid a 2017 wave of nationwide reckoning with memorials to Confederate leaders, Manatee County voted to take the monument down. The 22-foot-tall obelisk statue, which was broken during removal, has remained in storage ever since.

Commissioners were potentially set to make a decision about the statue during Tuesday’s public meeting, but the topic was removed from the meeting agenda in order to consider other possibilities, according to Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge.

“The Confederate monument was removed from the agenda to give the county administrator an opportunity to communicate with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the possibility of placing the monument on Gamble Plantation to give the board an additional option for consideration,” said Van Ostenbridge, who serves as board chairman.

The Bradenton Herald posted an unscientific poll asking readers what they think should happen to the monument. The poll did not require voters to share or prove their city of residence, so people outside of Manatee County may have participated.

Regardless of the outcome, this interactive poll is not meant to determine the Bradenton area’s overall feelings about the Confederate monument.

Readers demand return of Confederate statue

By a slim margin, readers said they wanted the statue to return. The poll results had 52% of participants, 264 people, vote in favor of its restoration. Here are some of the reasons they gave:

“I think we should not destroy history,” said Beth Fox of Ellenton. “Our children need to know about these men. Our fathers wanted us to know about them. We can’t change history, and young people aren’t hearing the whole story. We can’t take statues away every time people disagree.”

“Yes, it should be put back. It’s history,” said Steve Skinner, of Bradenton. “It shouldn’t have even been taken down.”

“I am in favor of reinstalling the Confederate statue and keeping history alive,” said Elizabeth Flower of Sarasota.

“History should never be subject to changing whims or opinions!” said Robert Courter.

Readers argue against Civil War monument downtown

But 48% of the survey respondents, 242 people, said they did not believe the statue should be returned. Here are some of their arguments:

“To glorify the South’s fight to continue to enslave people is disgusting! Republicans’ attempt to convince people the Civil War wasn’t about slavery is gaslighting. It was all about slavery,” said Diane Heller, of Bradenton.

“The granite obelisk this county commission wants to restore in front of the Historic Courthouse is a divisive symbol of hatred,” the Manatee County Democratic Party wrote in a statement. “The monument was erected in 1924 during the Jim Crow era that subjected persons of color and certain non-Christians to overt racism, bigotry and discrimination.”

“Both the North and the South lost so many in this violent conflict, let them all be mourned, but this is no monument to Confederate soldiers who died,” said Ellen Messmer of Bradenton. “It is an ugly advertisement for a way of life we have thankfully left behind us.”

“Restoring the Confederate monument (especially near the courthouse) is a terrible idea. Given the historical context of its origins, its wording and its listed ‘heroes,’ it is not simply a memorial to Confederate soldiers but rather an overtly racist celebration of southern white supremacy and slavery itself,” said David Dean of Myakka City.

The base of the Confederate monument, which was removed from downtown Bradenton in 2017, is shown in this Bradenton Herald file photo. Tifffany Tompkins/
The base of the Confederate monument, which was removed from downtown Bradenton in 2017, is shown in this Bradenton Herald file photo. Tifffany Tompkins/