Removing a Confederate Statue in St. Augustine, Florida
Author: Amanda Lynn Sheppard
Translated into Spanish by Ana Elena Acon
St. Augustine has been an epicenter of racial conflict for over a century, and most recently this conflict has manifested as the dispute between defenders of a Confederate statue, and those who support its legal removal. On June 22, 2020, the St. Augustine City Commission voted 3-2 in favor of removing the statue from its prominent place in Constitution Plaza to a new site miles away from downtown.
Around this time throughout the United States, other Confederate statues were also removed from places of honor either by the direct action of the public itself, by a unilateral decision of an elected official, or through a democratic vote of people elected to serve the public, as was the case in St. Augustine. The overall conflict between defenders of St. Augustine’s Confederate memorial and people who support its removal publicly manifested as protests and counter-protests.
While most of the protests and gatherings were peaceful, or did not include any direct expression of violence, they represent a latent schism in the community in St. Augustine, of which there are many challenges to peaceful resolution. These challenges include the multiple perceptions of history largely determined by group identity and deeply rooted structural violence against the Black community in St. Augustine.
The Impact of History and Identity
This article will now investigate the challenge to peace as it manifests in the form of the connections between perceptions of history and identity. In C.R. SIPPABIO: A Model for Conflict Analysis Amr Abdalla and Marie Sender (2019) highlight the importance of history as a contextual factor that deeply influences conflict when they write that “understanding the background and history of the conflict” is one of the first steps in the CR SIPPABIO model of conflict analysis (p. 100).
The most obvious connection between this conflict and the contentious views of the past occurred when “a Black Lives Matter supporter holding an American flag stood with a counter-protestor with a Confederate flag” in Constitution Plaza at a protest in July, according to Annie Hammock of First Coast News.
This perfectly exemplifies the modern bond between defenders of the memorial and the Confederacy and hints at the connection between white southern identity and the idea that the Confederacy should be defended in the modern-day. Paula Ioanide in Antiracism Inc. (2019) explores the concept of white identity as it relates to history when she determines:
White Americans expect not only to inherit an intergenerational birthright to the social, economic, and political advantages enjoyed by their ancestors; they also develop an affective corollary that manifests as an embodied performance of entitlement. Even in the absence of concrete knowledge or facts that these entitlements are under threat, the affective economies that structure white identity can construct a sense of loss, anxiety, fear and resentment anytime these advantages are projected to decrease in any way. (p. 88)
Defenders of the Confederate memorial feel this “sense of loss, anxiety, fear and resentment” because they feel their racial advantage as white descendants of the Confederacy is “projected to decrease” if the statue is removed, as Ioanide describes (Ioanide, 2019, p. 88). White southerners in St. Augustine ultimately feel entitled to their version of history, one in which slavery is justified and the Confederacy is honored.
Identity formation theory, or social identity theory, is frequently used in the field of conflict resolution as a multidisciplinary way to analyze conflicts. Blake Ashforth and Fred Mael examine social identity theory (SIT) in their work Social Identity Theory and the Organization (1989) when they state, “According to SIT, people tend to classify themselves and others into various social categories, such as organizational membership, religious affiliation, gender, and age cohort” (p. 20).
In the conflict in question, defenders of the Confederate memorial in St. Augustine share an identity that likely has historical roots in the Confederacy itself, while supporters of the statue’s removal are united by an identity that has empathy for the people who suffered under slavery, a practice which the Confederacy fought a war to preserve.
Ashforth and Mael continue to describe SIT when they explain, “Social/group identification is seen as personally experiencing the successes and failures of the group,” an experience which transcends temporal boundaries, resulting in the defenders of the statue collectively experiencing the failure of confederacy in 2020 just as supporters of its removal feel the generational trauma of slavery (p. 21).
Defenders of the memorial are united under a shared group identity and corollary perception of history that favors the Confederacy, while supports of the removal are united under an identity that remembers the oppression, racial brutality, and violence embedded in history. Ioanide highlights this perception of history when she writes, “The unrestrained right to use and enjoy one’s gifts was historically denied to people of color (in the US and other parts of the world) and continues to be severely circumscribed today” (Ioanide, 2019, p. 88).
She emphasizes this denial of rights nearly universally applied to people of color and was especially prevalent in the American South throughout its regional history and into the modern era. In Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy, the Southern Poverty Law Center articulates the divide between the primary parties regarding history when they reveal:
The argument that the Confederate flag and other displays represent ‘heritage, not hate’ ignores the near-universal heritage of African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved by the millions in the South. It trivializes their pain, their history and their concerns about racism – whether it’s the racism of the past or that of today. And it conceals the true history of the Confederate States of America and the seven decades of Jim Crow segregation and oppression that followed the Reconstruction era. (Southern Poverty Law center, 2019)
Supporters of the statue’s removal in St. Augustine include this acknowledgement of slavery in their historical memory, while the statue’s defenders selectively alter their view of slavery to fit a narrative that holds the Confederacy in a place of honor in spite of past acts of dehumanization. This fundamental divide in historical perceptions represents a clear challenge to peace in this community.
If both primary parties cannot agree on what happened in the past and how generational trauma affects the present and the future, the potential for a meaningful conflict transformation will remain unlikely, and the construction of a positive peace will be a significantly arduous endeavor.
Structural Violence in St. Augustine
Another challenge to peace in St. Augustine is the structural violence entrenched in St. Augustine’s society through economic stratification and local governance. Johan Galtung coined the term “structural violence” and describes it as the existence of violence resulting from an inequitable and harmful social structure (Galtung, 2012, pp. 75). The 2006 documentary Dare Not Walk Alone directed by Jeremy Dean focuses on the structural violence in St. Augustine by highlighting its role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and how the consequences of that movement impact lives today.
Dean begins the section on structural violence with statistics from the 2000 US Census. The documentary shows the “per capita income of St. John’s County,” the county in which St. Augustine is located, and how per capita income for white people in 2000 was $30,096, while per capita income for African Americans that year was less than half that of whites: a measly $12,997 (Dean, 2006). Correspondingly, the film includes the figures for the “Below poverty level in St. John’s County,” which for whites was only 6.6%, while 26.1% of African Americans were below the poverty line at this time (Dean, 2006).
The data clearly conveys the existence of structural violence along racial divides in St. Augustine because the institutions and society itself are structured to promote the prosperity of white people and the effective impoverishment of the Black community. Structural factors such as this do constitute a form of violence that is a legitimate challenge to peace in the conflict in St. Augustine.
The structural violence persists beyond the economic data to include the impact of local governance and city planning. Dean illustrates the gargantuan role that I-95, the major highway connecting the entire east coast of the United States, plays in this conflict. Historian David Nolan has a segment in the film when he discloses:
If you want to see how the white community got back at the Black community for the civil rights movement, look at I-95. The civil rights movement and the interstate highway system were simultaneous developments. If you look you’ll notice that all of the spokes on the highway wheel that go out of St. Augustine (US-1, State Road 206, State Road 207, etc.) all have interchanges on I-95 except King St. that runs through the Black community.” (Dean, 2006)
Nolan is attempting to convey the absurdity that there is no highway exit onto King St., a road that leads directly into the heart of downtown St. Augustine, while all of the other roads with access to the highway lead to St. Augustine in an indirect, time-consuming manner. The section of King St. closest to the highway also happens to be where much of the underprivileged Black community is located, with their dilapidated houses and above-ground septic tanks that constantly fail (Dean, 2006).
King St. is where the actual conditions of poverty which the Black population of St. Augustine must endure are on full display, and designers of the highway sought to keep this concrete example of the intentional impoverishment of these people eternally hidden from public view.
The powers in charge of the interstate construction put their racist agenda above even economic profit when they actively chose to inconvenience tourists by making them drive miles out of the way just to get to St. Augustine, because doing so would result in a form of structural revenge against Black citizens for participating in the civil rights movement. Evidently, the concealment and social erasure of the Black community in St. Augustine due to the lack of a highway interchange at I-95 and King St. constitutes a form of structural violence that persists to this day, mostly unrecognized.
The prolonged structural violence against the impoverished Black folk in St. Augustine is a clear challenge to peace because the lack of acknowledgment or change of such inequitable structures will inevitably result in this conflict continually manifesting in one form or another, beyond the façade of a debate about a mere statue, until these issues are finally addressed and transformed.
In spite of all the challenges to peace in surrounding the Confederate statue removal in St. Augustine, there was a relatively peaceful outcome to the conflict overall. Sheldon Gardner of the St. Augustine Record reports, “Capping about a month of work by moving crews and contention in the community that spanned a few years, St. Augustine’s Confederate memorial was removed from the Plaza de la Constitución on Wednesday morning,” September 9th, 2020.
Gardner also explains that the monument will be “taken to its new permanent home at Trout Creek Fish Camp, which is near the St. Johns River on State Road 13 in western St. Johns County”. Given that the outcome of the conflict was the statue’s actual removal and an overall cessation of protests surrounding the issue, one can deduce that the current situation constitutes a negative peace, which Galtung describes as an “absence of violence” and war (Galtung, 1969, p. 172).
However, the fundamental issues that remain latent yet ubiquitous in the community in St. Augustine since this conflict has formally ended will continue to impact societal relations until further action is taken to promote the development of positive peace. In A Gendered Reading of Peace, Annika Björkdahl describes how positive peace differs from negative peace when she reveals, “In contrast to the limited negative peace, which refers to the absence of specific forms of violence associated with war, positive peace requires not only that all types of violence are minimal or non-existent, but also that the major potential causes of future conflict are removed” (Björkdahl, 2014, p. 24).
This prescription for positive peace, which hinges on the removal of factors that repeatedly cause conflict, is exactly what the St. Augustine community needs following its most recent contentious manifestation of conflict.
Ideas for the Future
As with any conflict, there are myriad potential strategies for the creative construction of a positive peace in this community. As someone with a personal connection to the city and the community at large given my former residence there as a student of Flagler College, I have formulated some ideas that could begin the long process of healing the relationship between white defenders of the Confederacy and the largely impoverished Black community in St. Augustine.
My first idea aimed at relationship mending is that Flagler College could host community meetings with professors, the Flagler College Black Student Association, local supporters of Black Lives Matter, students who defend the Confederate statue and those who support its removal, and members of the public who wish to have their voices heard as well.
The ultimate goal of these meetings would be to offer a safe environment for everyone to share their pain, perceptions of history, the impact of cultural and structural violence on their lives, and their overall perspective on racial issues including the Confederate statue and beyond. This strategy could be an effective way to open communication in a healthy manner between opposing parties of the conflict.
Another subtler way to build a common bond among people of all races in the community could be to hold weekly gatherings wherein an equal mix of white people and people of color work together towards a common goal, without obviously discussing race. These gatherings could manifest as weekly beach clean-ups at St. Augustine beach, which would help cultivate a shared identity among members of the community through working hard to help heal the environment. This idea would essentially unite the goal of working towards social sustainability with the goal of striving for environmental sustainability.
If the citizens of St. Augustine assume that the conflict is over because the statue has been legally removed, and if the latent causes of the conflict and challenges to a comprehensive peace go overlooked or ignored yet again, then this community will witness innumerable physical manifestations of this conflict for many decades to come.
Understanding how the differing perceptions of history, identity, and structural violence are clear challenges to the existence of positive peace in St. Augustine is essential to forming a holistic assessment of this deeply rooted conflict. Analyzing the conflict in this way reveals that the issue extends immensely beyond the current manifestation as a social disagreement over whether a statue should be removed or not.
Factors exist that have been littered throughout history since the Confederacy’s defeat in the US Civil War in the structures and culture of the area and have repeatedly contributed to visible demonstrations of conflict. Such factors include the racial inequality embedded in the geographic layout of St. Augustine, persistent economic inequality, and other structural issues as well as in the dominant culture through the promotion of stereotypes used to justify subjugation and white supremacy.
These elements often remain invisible to the passive observer until the latent conflict they cause becomes manifest. Without a doubt, other conflicts in communities around the world have similar challenges to peace which, once thoroughly analyzed and investigated, can lead to the inspiration for positive intervention strategies aimed at addressing the covert problems and positively transforming societies.
In this manner, the challenges to the peace themselves ultimately reveal the pathways forward towards the development of a truly positive peace free from direct, structural, or cultural violence.
List of References
Abdalla, Amr and Sender, Marie. (2019). C.R. SIPPABIO: A Model for Conflict Analysis. Washington, D.C.
Ashforth, B., & Mael, F. (1989). Social Identity Theory and the Organization. The Academy of Management Review, 14(1), 20-39. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/258189
Björkdahl, A. (2014). Challenges of Peace Research (pp. 24-28, Rep.) (Goetschel L. & Pfluger S., Eds.). Swisspeace. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep11076.6
Dean, J. (Director). (2006). Dare Not Walk Alone [Video file]. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.amazon.com/Dare-Walk-Alone-David-Nolan/dp/B001DUJIMM
Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167- Retrieved October 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690
Galtung, J., (2012) Positive and Negative Peace (pp. 75-79) (C. P. Webel, & J. Johansen, Eds.) Peace and Conflict Studies – a reader. London, New York: Routledge.
Ioanide, P. (2019). Defensive Appropriations. In Ioanide P., Blake F., & Reed A. (Eds.), Antiracism Inc.: Why the Way We Talk about Racial Justice Matters (pp. 83-108). Punctum Books. doi:10.2307/j.ctv11hptff.8
Southern Poverty Law Center. (2019). Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy. Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.splcenter.org/20190201/whose-heritage public-symbols-confederacy – executivesummary
Amanda Sheppard is a 22-year-old student at the University for Peace where she is pursuing a master’s degree in gender and peacebuilding. Amanda is from the United States and studied International Studies at Flagler College. She completed her undergraduate degree in only three years and has spent a year teaching English in a small town in Andalucía, Spain. Amanda is passionate about social justice, gender equality, and understanding the role of intersectionality in conflicts and peace processes around the world.