Confederate Descendants File Lawsuit to Block Florida Monument Removal

A group of 38 descendants of Confederate soldiers in Florida have filed a lawsuit in an effort to prevent the speedy removal of a monument to their ancestors

St. Augustine's City Commission voted 3 to 2 to remove the Confederate Obelisk, which has been situated in the city's Plaza de la Constitución since 1879. The lawsuit filed by the Confederate descendants, which has been joined by the Veterans Council of St. Johns County and the Military Officers Association of America, Ancient City Chapter, argues that the decision to remove the monument did not go through the proper review process and that the obelisk is different from other Confederate monuments.

"This monument was a communal effort, public art, and social history. Ex-soldiers and politicians had a difficult time raising funds to erect monuments so the task mostly fell to the women, the mothers, widows and orphans, the bereaved fiancees and sisters of the soldiers who had lost their lives," Attorney John Terhune, who is representing the plaintiffs, said, local CBS affiliate WJAX-TV 47 reported on Sunday.

Confederate Flag
A Confederate flag flies from a vehicle during a rally to show support for the American and Confederate flags on July 11, 2015 in Loxahatchee, Florida Joe Raedle/Getty

"The Monument is a form of expressive speech with a message related to the War Between the States and does not include Confederate markings. The expressive speech, and message projected by the Monument is generally understood to be from the mothers, sisters, and widows of the war dead," Terhune said. "The petitioners are the lineal descendants of these mothers, sisters and widows and would suffer irreparable harm should the memorial to their relatives be damaged or destroyed."

The lawsuit alleges that St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch pressured the City Commission to fast track the removal by speeding up a required review of the Historical Architecture Review Board. Newsweek reached out to Upchurch for comment on the lawsuit, but he did not respond by the time of publication.

Descendants of the Confederate soldiers memorialized by the obelisk want a "feasibility study from the Historical Architectural Review Board" prior to the monument's removal, according to NBC affiliate WLTV 12. The obelisk lists the names of Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War.

The lawsuit comes as monuments to Confederate soldiers and leaders have been targeted across the country amid ongoing anti-racism demonstrations. Following the death of George Floyd, a black man, in police custody on May 25, Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the country and around the world. Activists have called for the removal of monuments to the Confederacy as well as statues of many other historical figures who supported slavery or committed other racist acts.

While some cities and municipalities have taken down controversial statues, others have resisted protesters' demands. Many of these monuments have been vandalized by demonstrators, while some have been torn down.

President Donald Trump has taken a staunchly oppositional stance to removing the Confederate monuments. The Confederacy was formed in rebellion against the U.S., as southern states where slavery was still legal attempted to secede from the union in 1861.

"I just had the privilege of signing a very strong Executive Order protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues—and combatting recent Criminal Violence. Long prison terms for these lawless acts against our Great Country!" Trump tweeted on Friday.