BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – In an unanticipated move, Polk County commissioners voted to relocate a Confederate monument from downtown Bartow to a historic cemetery less than a mile away.
Many longtime Polk County officials say they were not aware a nearly 5-foot tall monument in front of the Polk County History Center, the former courthouse, commemorated Confederate soldiers.
It took a woman from New Mexico, a descendant of a Confederate soldier with ties to Bartow, to point out its existence.
Maggie Macaulay advocated for the marker to be moved during a Polk County Historical Commission meeting a few months ago.
The members agreed to consider covering up the Confederate symbol with a medallion and then authorize a companion monument to commemorate Black history.
“It really is right there in front of your face and once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It was always going to be offensive to people,” said Bill Braswell, a Polk County commissioner, who admits he did not know the nature of the monument until a few months ago.
Braswell also sits on the historical commission.
During his comment period at Tuesday’s board of commissioners’ meeting, he put forward a motion to move the monument to Oak Hill Cemetery.
“I hate the fact that the historical commission is getting this put on their shoulders,” he said during the meeting.
In a 4-1 vote, the commissioners voted to move the monument to the cemetery, pending approval from the city of Bartow.
No public input was taken. The item was not on the agenda.
“It came to the historical commission. Everybody had a chance to speak,” said Braswell.
Commissioner George Lindsey voted against the motion, instead of supporting the idea to cover the symbol and add a companion monument.
Bartow city commissioner Leo Longworth said Tuesday’s vote took him by surprise.
“It should have been on the agenda for discussion. There’s no doubt about it,” he said.
While his “first desire” was for it to be moved, he was working on developing ideas for a companion monument.
He says members of the public would have given input if they were given the chance.
“That to me, kind of makes it even controversial. Is there any hidden agenda? What’s the rationale to having brought it up and not talk about it?” he asked.
“It was decided to move it and as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine,” said Terry Coney, president of the Lakeland branch of the NAACP.
Coney, however, said he believes commissioners should have had the opportunity to hear from the public.
“For something public like that, normally that’s on an agenda, the meeting agenda and the public has the opportunity to come and state their opinion on it. That didn’t happen,” he said.