Tensions rise over monuments to supporters of slavery

MIAMI – The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer sparked worldwide protests against racism that now include the vandalism of monuments linked to racism.

Some of the monuments destroyed honored colonialists who contributed to the enslaving of native inhabitants, British and Dutch traders who profited from the enslaving of Africans and military generals who defended the institution of slavery in the United States.

“If I was young, I would be there. I would help them take those down,” Carmen Lopez, a domestic worker who was born in Guatemala and lives in Miami, said in Spanish. “Columbus is not a hero. He was an Italian who stole our gold and turned children into slaves.”

Lopez said the few men who damaged two monuments in downtown Miami are representative of the frustration of many. Videos released on Thursday show officers and vandals violently clashing in downtown Miami.

For some Central Americans like Lopez, the monuments glorify the idea of European superiority. Despite the invigorated outrage during Black Lives Matter protests, some argue there is an educational value to the monuments near Bayside Marketplace.

“The only way that we can move forward as a society is to learn from our past, and that’s both the positive and the negative,” said John Quick, a local attorney who serves as the chair of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board.

David McCallister has devoted his life to protecting the “cultural heritage” of The Confederate States of America, the slave-holding states that wanted to separate from the U.S. over the expansion of slavery. The states relied heavily on a plantation system that was dependant on slavery.

“There is no right not to be offended, but if there is free speech, then all speech is equally valid,” said McCallister, who lives in Hillsborough County. In the U.S., there are limits to free speech when it comes to inciting imminent lawless action.

The 13 Confederacy states were Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri. McCallister has mostly focused on protecting tributes to Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart.

Before institutionalized slavery in Florida, Juan Ponce de Leon established Spanish Florida. And just like Christopher Columbus, who enslaved some of the native inhabitants of the West Indies, De Leon also promoted the brutal oppression of natives.

“Criminals shouldn’t have monuments,” Lopez said.


Vandals target monuments around the world:

  • Edward Colston made his fortune as slave trader in the 17th century.
Protesters in Oxford city centre, during a protest calling for the removal of the statue of 19th century imperialist, politician Cecil Rhodes from the Oriel college in Oxford, England, which has reignited amid other protests sparked by the death of George Floyd who died after a US police officer pressed his knee into his neck. Anti-racism demonstrations under the banner Black Lives Matter have called attention to issues including the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign group. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP)
  • Cecil Rhodes made his fortune from abusing workers at gold and diamond mines.
  • Henry Dundas delayed the abolition of the slave trade.
The statue of Robert Milligan, a noted West Indian merchant, slaveholder and founder of London's global trade hub, West India Docks, stands covered in a sack-cloth and sign reading Black Lives Matter, outside the Museum of London Docklands, Tuesday June 9, 2020. The recent death of George Floyd who died after a U.S. officer pressed his knee into his neck, has prompted investigations into the lorded promotion of many historical figures who gave money to philanthropic enterprises, gaving their names to British city areas, statues and landmarks, but gained much of their wealth from the slave trade. (Renee Bailey/PA via AP)
  • Robert Milligan exploited slaves at his sugar plantations in Jamaica.
  • Robert Baden-Powell was a racist who expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.
  • William Gladstone’s father was a prominent slave owner.
Protesters and police gather around Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square during the Black Lives Matter protest rally in London, Sunday, June 7, 2020, in response to the recent killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, USA, that has led to protests in many countries and across the US. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
  • Winston Churchill expressed racist views.
  • Jean-Baptist Colbert drafted the “Black Code” to regulate slavery in French colonies.
  • Indro Montanelli had a 12-year-old Ethiopian bride when he was a soldier during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.
Workers clean graffiti from a statue of Belgium's King Leopold II in Brussels on Thursday, June 11, 2020, that was targeted by protesters during a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The protests sweeping the world after George Floyd's death in the U.S. have added fuel to a movement to confront Europe's role in the slave trade and its colonial past. Leopold is increasingly seen as a stain on the nation where he reigned from 1865 to 1909. Demonstrators want him removed from public view. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
  • King Leopold II enslaved people in Congo.
  • Jan Pieterszoon Coen, also known as the “Butcher of Banda,” was a leader in the Dutch East India Company, which was involved in the slave trade.


About the Authors:

Trent Kelly is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined the Local 10 News team in June 2018. Trent is no stranger to Florida. Born in Tampa, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he graduated with honors from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."