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Senate advances slavery memorial, but not before committee chair defends initial opposition

Legislation calling for a memorial honoring those who suffered from slavery in Florida advanced unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday.

But first, Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee chair Dennis Baxley explained why he was always for the bill, even though he voted against it last Session.

The bill (SB 286) will recognize the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery in the U.S. and its colonies, including Florida, explained St. Petersburg Democrat Darryl Rouson, the bill’s sponsor in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

“And to honor the nameless and forgotten men and women and children who have gone unrecognized for their undeniable and weighty contributions to this state and country,” Rouson told his colleagues serving on the committee.

The bill calls for the Department of Management Services to develop a specific plan for the design, placement, and cost of the memorial and submits the plan to the Governor and Legislature.

The bill has zoomed through various House committees this fall, as it did during the regular 2017 session earlier this year. But it was Baxley who stalled it in the Senate earlier this year, saying he objected to the title of the bill, “the Florida Slavery Memorial.”

The descendant of a Confederate soldier, Baxley said in April that he had objected to the bill because he didn’t want to “celebrate defeat,” a comment he retracted in a later interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board.

During his tenure in the Legislature, the Ocala Republican has been a champion of the Confederacy. He fought a bill that sought to ban flying the Confederate flag on government property, opposed a memorial to fallen Union soldiers at a state park that has three monuments to Confederates, disputed the removal of a Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statute from the U.S. Capitol and tried to keep colleagues from eliminating the offensive word “darkeys” from the chorus of the state song, “The Swanee River.”

But he took a different approach on Tuesday, saying he never opposed the monument.

“My concern last year was that I really wanted to focus on the people who endured slavery rather than the institution itself,” he told Rouson and his committee. “And I would like to honor people, rather than being about the institution. “

Baxley said he thought that Rouson had given him a good explanation about the memorial’s intent and that would be the content of the monument “to my satisfaction, and I think of others.” He thanked Rouson for working with him with a level of mutual respect, “rather than raining down fire on me.”

The bill is being sponsored in the House by Democrat Kionne McGhee.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

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