TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The Florida First District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday, Aug. 3 that that a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit aimed at keeping a Confederate statue on public property was correct.
According to an opinion from the First District Court of Appeal, the lower court in Madison County correctly dismissed the claims of the plaintiffs, who sought to prevent the city from removing the monument.
The plaintiffs argued that a 1909 sculpture of a uniformed Confederate soldier, located at the now Four Freedoms Park in the city of Madison, must remain at the park.
The opinion notes in 1926, the park property was transferred from the county to the city.
In exchange, the city to gave up its right to collect a more than $4,000 debt from the county for road paving services.
On July 13, 2020, the city of Madison five member board of commissioners voted 3-2 in favor to remove the statue from the park.
Following the vote, a lawsuit by individuals who claim ancestry ties to the Confederate monument, was filed in county court to prevent the removal of the statue from Four Freedoms Park.
The Florida Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Florida chapter of Save Southern Heritage, Inc., joined the lawsuit to preserve the statue at the park.
The appeal court's opinion notes, "Some people in the Madison County community place value on the monument because it commemorates their ancestors’ deaths and has historical worth."
Madison County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller records note the county court dismissed the lawsuit June 16, 2021.
According to the first district court of appeal opinion, the plaintiffs argued:
- Removing the statue violated a 1926 deed along with the mayor’s vote for removal of the statue was void because the mayor lived outside the city limits.
- Removal of the statue violated the city’s historic preservation ordinance.
- Removal violated Florida law which criminalizes defacing or destroying tombstones and monuments.
- Removal violates the plaintiffs' state constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
- Removal is a breach of the city’s fiduciary duty to its citizens to protect city assets.
- Removal breaches implied contracts between the city and the Sons of Confederate Veterans to continue the monument in the park as an appurtenance.
The appeals court ruled against all of the plaintiffs' arguments in its opinion.
Following the election of Abraham Lincoln, an anti-slavery Republican, as President of the United States of America in 1860, many states in the southeast, including Florida and Georgia, seceded from the United States to establish the Confederate State of America in the early 1860s.
The expansion of the institution of slavery of enslaved African Americans was the contentious point between the sides.
That led to the American Civil War from 1861-1865 between the Confederate States and the eventual victorious Union or states mainly in the mid-Atlantic, northeast, midwest and west that remained in the United States of America during the war.
The appeal court opinion notes that as of the 2020 Census, about 1/3 of the population in Madison County is African American with the city's population 2/3 African American.