Organizers want confederate statue removed from Lake Eola Park in time for June 12 Pulse events

By : Billy Manes
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ORLANDO – He may go by the name “Johnny Reb,” but the statue that has become one of Orlando’s more recent persons of interest – and controversy – isn’t representative of one man or woman, but rather the Confederate soldiers of Orlando. The issue of the statue’s placement in the main thoroughfare around Lake Eola has raised hackles among progressives, the black community and the LGBTQ community in recent weeks due to a number of reasons, the least of which being its nomenclature.

“After last year’s Pulse massacre, local officials stood up against hatred and saluted diversity,” activist David Porter says in a YouTube video.

A May 15 spectacle both inside and outside of Orlando City Hall brought with it some heightened tensions and some traffic-waving of Confederate flags yelling at passersby. The intersection with the LGBTQ community may not be so immediate, says Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan.

“I wasn’t terribly thrilled with David Porter making that connection and wanting it removed before June 12,” she says (Mayor Buddy Dyer has asked that the statue be relocated to Greenwood Cemetery).

She does, however, admit that in its current location, the “Johnny Reb” statue is a problem.

But the statue, commissioned in 1911 by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – which is presently referred to as a “neo-Confederate” hate group – puts a pall on the celebration of Orlando’s Day of Unity meant to honor those killed at Pulse one year later.

“I’m glad that we’re moving it,” Sheehan says. “But I’m distressed that there may be some violence.”

After the May 15 meeting, she says that a man approached Dyer and that the police had to be brought in to prevent a dangerous situation for escalating.

“I was in the room when they spoke, and there was no wondering what it was about,” she says. “I actually asked somebody to watch my house, because I was frightened. … The problem now for us who are planning the event on the June 12 is that there has been lots of traffic on Facebook. Everybody’s been traumatized enough, we don’t need this slapping in the breeze.”

Robin Harris, who is connected with local progressive group Organize Now and is a self-professed “intersectional activist,” says that the connections between oppressed groups are more important now than ever.

“If our city is serious about being united and serious about being a safe place and a sanctuary, the removal of a statue that represents years and years of hate, years and years of bigotry, is good,” she says. “For me, as an African-American lesbian woman, the statue symbolizes that, “We don’t want you here, and ultimately we want you dead.’”

As for the practicalities of relocating the statue on short enough notice to precede the Lake Eola Pulse memorial, Greenwood Cemetery sexton Don Price doesn’t see the time window as being feasible.

Price says the statue will likely find its final resting place among the cemetery’s Confederate soldier section – which only has approximately 37 people buried within it. The cemetery wasn’t founded until 15 years after the war.

“Cemeteries are a non-judgmental entity. We have doctors next to criminals, blacks next to whites, Jews next to Catholics, gays next to straights.”

Still, expect extra sets of eyes – and wings – just in case something should occur on June 12.

“We had planned on having the Angels there anyway. Maybe that ends up what we use the Angels for,” she says. This is not a free speech issue; this is about people inciting violence. The Orlando Police Department will have a very vigorous detail.”

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