West Palm removes Confederate monument from city cemetery

It didn’t take even 24 hours for the city to make good on its promise to remove a monument to the Confederate dead from West Palm Beach-owned Woodlawn Cemetery.

At midday Tuesday, workers carved the monument out.

Mayor Jeri Muoio had said Monday that the city would remove the 10-foot-tall “In memory of our Confederate Soldiers” fixture, which is owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She said the city’s lawyers had reached out to the Daughters in the past few months, asking them to remove the monument.

“They haven’t done that, so we will do it for them,” she said Monday. “We sort of lost our patience.”

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Just Sunday, someone had vandalized the monument, which has stood in the Dixie Highway cemetery since 1941.

City officials had been cagey about when they would move to cart off the marker. On Tuesday, a Palm Beach Post photographer driving past Woodlawn at 10:30 a.m. saw nothing out of place. The photographer drove by again at about 12:30 p.m. to find a crane at the site and the monument already lying on a flatbed, with workers digging out its 4-foot-deep concrete base.

The city Tuesday would say only that the monument was being stored at “a secure location” until the Daughters come for it. It said the removal cost about $2,000.

Woodlawn is owned by the city, but the marker was privately maintained. Muoio was asked Monday whether she worries about a legal challenge. The mayor said: “I always worry about a legal fight. It’s part of my job.”

A West Palm Beach lawyer who works with the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday laid out two ways to consider such a challenge.

“If the memorial is considered government speech, the city would have broad discretion untethered by the First Amendment to remove the confederate memorial,” said James Green, who stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the ACLU.

“If it is not government speech, and the memorial is owned (and not donated) by the Daughters of the Confederacy, and there are no ordinances or agreements that give the city discretion to remove it, the Daughters of the Confederacy may have property or liberty interests which require due process (such as notice and an opportunity to be heard) before removal.”

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Local and state representatives of the Daughters of the Confederacy have not responded to Palm Beach Post requests for comment via phone and email. But the group’s national headquarters issued a statement Monday from President General Patricia M. Bryson, saying in part:

“To some, these memorial statues and markers are viewed as divisive and thus unworthy of being allowed to remain in public places. To others, they simply represent a memorial to our forefathers who fought bravely during four years of war. These memorial statues and markers have been a part of the Southern landscape for decades. We are grieved that certain hate groups have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own. … Join us in denouncing hate groups and affirming that Confederate memorial statues and monuments are part of our shared American history and should remain in place.”

The marble monument, positioned directly behind an American flag, stood out as visitors drove through the front gate of Woodlawn. It is believed to have been the only Confederate monument in Palm Beach County.

Muoio said Monday of the marker and those like it, “I believe strongly that they are symbols of hate and bigotry, and we don’t want that here in our city.”

Calls for removal of Confederate monuments have sprung up nationwide after the violent Charlottesville, Va., protest, which started as a demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee.

On Sunday, at Woodlawn, a person or persons used red paint to write “Antifa (expletive) Nazi and KKK” on the Confederate monument. Antifa is a left-wing movement; its name is short for “anti-fascist.” The paint on the front of the monument covered an etching of a Confederate flag. The side of the monument also has noticeable damage to its the stone section. The city early Monday took on the task and cost of removing the paint. Police have said the monument also was vandalized a few weeks ago.

Muoio stressed Monday that vandalism is a crime. She said police will conduct additional patrols.

Staff multimedia journalist Lannis Waters contributed to this story.

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