Mayor Rick Lott announced last week that the Confederate Cow Cavalry monument at the 1914 museum was removed and would no longer remain in Plant City.
The recent Black Lives Matter movement in Plant City has sparked the conversation for meaningful change from the very top of city leadership down to the some of the youngest rising community leaders.
During a roundtable discussion early Thursday morning between said leaders and Mayor Rick Lott, City Manager Bill McDaniel and Police Chief Ed Duncan, the desire for the city to follow these conversations with actions was proven when Lott walked into the center of the circle and made an announcement that caught many by surprise. The confederate Cow Cavalry monument at the 1914 High School Community Center, 605 N. Collins St., was removed.
Lott took a moment to delve into its complex history with the city and share his heart with the group on why it should have been gone years before and his regret for ignoring his gut all these years.
“This thing has been gnawing at me for some time,” Lott said. “In the years that it’s been there, I don’t know that I’ve ever had anyone come to me and say ‘Will you remove it,’ or ‘Why don’t you remove it?’ Not that that’s important because the problem was it was there whether we discussed it or not, right? I don’t think we had to discuss it. It didn’t belong there. It wasn’t approved to be there, it shouldn’t be there and that’s not what we do in our city. Through discussion with the city manager we decided, especially since it was not approved by the city commission, was never authorized by the city commission, to rid that monument from our city and our 1914 High School building.”
The issue was far more complicated than most assumed. Many believed the city made the decision to allow a confederate monument to be erected on its property. It turns out that was not the case at all. That was Lott’s first year as mayor and he said he remembers the chain of events like it was yesterday.
The commission was not alerted by the East Hillsborough Historical Society — which is housed at the former school and runs the history museum and genealogical archives there — that the monument was planned for the location. The monument was donated by the Plant City Chapter #1931 United Daughters of the Confederacy in 2007 and was placed on the spot without the city’s permission, according to Lott.
“It occurred out of thin air and without our approval, and I want to make sure I make this very clear: The commission never authorized for that monument to be located on city property. I want to say that again. The city commission never approved for that monument to be on city property. There was a longstanding verbal agreement between the Plant City Historical Society and the city that they would house that center and have it be a historical museum, and their understanding was they could do as they pleased to put historical data in that facility. When we found out that monument was there, it sparked a lot of conversation in our city. That was actually the first year I was mayor, so I’m pretty sure it was 2007… What we realized was that we didn’t have a written policy in our city. Sometimes you assume things would naturally be there, but we didn’t have a written policy on what could be placed on city property or not and who had the authority to place things on city property or not. We had many meetings, a lot of debate on it, and we passed a policy that from thenceforth you had to have city commission approval to place a monument or a statue on city property, or naming rights to a city-owned building.”
Shelby Bender, president and executive director of the East Hillsborough Historical Society, could not be reached for comment.
The monument was created to pay homage to the men who were a part of the Cow Cavalry, a Confederate States Army cavalry unit that organized to protect herds of cattle from Union raiders and to send cattle up toward fighting troops.
If you ever read the engravings on the four sides of the polished granite, you’d more than likely recognize many of the names carved into the stone. Those who bore the last name Johnson, Moody, Platt, Raulerson, Wells, Wilder and countless others were a part of the cavalry unit.
“I always brag about our forefathers,” Lott said. “I think our forefathers did a lot of great things and I wish I knew who they were because they did a lot of policies and so forth many, many years ago, long before I was even alive. One of the great things they did was they decided to have nonpartisan races in Plant City. You don’t run as a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent or anything else. I love that.That means it’s idea versus idea, exchange versus exchange during an election and it’s not party versus party. I like that. Everyone can engage and it doesn’t matter what party you’re from because you don’t advertise what party you’re from.”
Lott went on to say each commissioner represents the entire city rather than their assigned geographical area, and thus can discuss things with everyone being on the same page.
Things in Plant City are named after local leaders, not national ones. You never see Kennedy Boulevard or a Clinton Street. The parks are named for those who impacted their community like Samuel Cooper and Marie B. Ellis. That was by design, he said, and they love to recognize those locally who make a difference in the city. To change the nation you have to take care of your backyard, Lott said.
“We make sure that the content that we have reflects our city and does not divide us,” Lott said.
The topic was brought up on June 6 when Roderick Henderson, a rising leader, filmed a video of the monument and posted it to his Facebook page. It quickly gained traction and calls to remove it were coming in left and right. The call was raised and Lott wanted the community to know it was answered.
Less than a week later, the monument and all of the bricks surrounding it that bore the names of the donors for the confederate statue were gone. Lott said the monument is currently in storage and the Daughters of the Confederacy were notified it was ready for them to pick up.
“I think Plant City has been doing a lot of good long before I got here, and hopefully we are getting better every year,” Lott said.