Clio Logo
Creating Communities: Pensacola United and Divided
Item 9 of 9
The Confederate Monument at Lee Square has been an area known for many controversial backgrounds and stories that featured few gatherings, but many parades and marches down Palafox in support of the memorial. Known as Florida Square in the early 1800s, the small patch of land was originally a grassy hill before Confederate General Edward Perry suggested the area to contain a Confederate tribute. Perry was a Massachusetts lawyer who settled in Pensacola and joined the Confederate Army as a captain of the Pensacola Rifles. He later served as a brigadier general under Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia and served as Florida governor from 1885 to 1889. In 1891, a marble slab and obelisk were erected in memory of General Perry after his passing to honor the “uncrowned heroes of the Civil War.”[1] The property was eventually turned over from the city to the hands of the Pensacola Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1903 where it became the scene of annual observances during Confederate Memorial Day on April 26. Centuries later and still today, the city council of Pensacola has control over the monument site which has generated multiple debates revolving around its existence that has left Pensacolians wondering where city leaders stand.

  • Marching, Parade, Black-and-white, Monochrome
  • Photograph, Snapshot, Tree, Tourism
  • 800 cannonballs and two old cannons sit infront of monument
  • Tree, Woody plant, Paper product, Plant
  • Facial hair, Moustache, Chin, Forehead

Thousands of ladies from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) gathered on June 16, 1891 to bear witness to the unboxing of a grand soldier figure that represented the Confederate Army. Many watched in awe as the statue was hoisted to the top of the towering marble obelisk in the grassy center-field of a public school Number 1 ground. The Ladies’ Association of Confederacy purchased 800 cannon balls and two old cannons that would decorate the park. Ceremonies and parades followed the next day to unveil the completion of the Lee Square Confederate monument. The parade featured more than seven different divisions [formations]. Each division consisted of Klans members from Knights of Prthias and Knights of Honor, fire departments, law firm associates, and other supporting societies.[2] After the parade was held down Palafox then brought back around to the top of the hill where the monument rested, crowds gathered around to hear the opening prayer by a local minister, Reverend H.S. Yeager. Considered the largest gathering of Confederate veterans in Florida, many came to visit and stood for a ‘retreat call’ in front of the finished landmark to show support for their fallen brethren.

Debate continued to flare over the monument site which was thought to be left standing “unaltered forever.” But in 1939 and 1963-1964 there were new issues rising with controversial reactions expressed about how the community felt.[3]  Letters were being sent to the Pensacola Journal during 1939 with reactions about the controversy. Many of who shared the idea of either wanting the monument destroyed or protecting it. As disagreements augmented, the Confederate Monument Association was revived in 1963 under the leadership of Mary Turner Rule. Rule and other community leaders had the idea to “enhance” the beautification of the square which would stop encroachments and threats to have the site removed.[4] Reconstruction of the area occurred as there were road modifications to reduce size of vehicular traffic and expand the park. This reshaped the area and the roadway to resemble a roundabout that can still be seen today.

Support for the monument only grew more intense throughout the years as the United Klans of America (UKA) would arrange two rallies on May 24, 1975. This marked their first public gather in Escambia County. The UKA planned to gather at the local Five Flags Speedway in the evening after they started the first march at 10 A.M from Lee Square to the Pensacola Municipal Auditorium, and ended near another memorial downtown. UKA imperial wizard, Robert Shelton, led approximately 135 robed Klansmen through downtown, waving Confederate flags as several Black groups observe from the sidewalks in silence. These rallies were meant to be used as a recruitment opportunity for Pensacolians, who have never seen a real Klan member.[5]  It just so happened that another march was being held by Alabama Governor George Wallace to speak about law and order. The two walked down the same route, only Wallace’s march ended at the Smith Bakery after passing the Lee Square monument.

During a time before women’s rights, there was an odd role being played by them over the construction of Confederate monuments. Women in Pensacola, Walton County, and Marianna developed ideas for the community in support of the monuments to “perpetuate the memory of the Confederate cause.” Author Stuart Towns states, “women were the prime movers of the Confederate monument building surge…they left their mark on their communities.”[6] Today, several local groups including the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Save Southern Heritage are suing the city to prevent the monument's removal. Local St. John's Cemetery, where many of Florida's Confederate veterans rest, has offered to take the monument should it be removed. As of October 26, 2020, the Pensacola Confederate monument has been removed by work crews. The statue will be transported to the Port of Pensacola as decisions will be made on where it will go next. The Pensacola City Council has voted 6-1 in July to change the name from Lee Square back to its original, Florida Square.[7]

[1] The Pensacola News Journal, February 9, 1964

[2] The Pensacola News Journal, June 16, 1891 --(Page 4)

[3] Towns, Stuart. Honoring the confederacy in northwest Florida: The confederate monument ritual. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 1978, vol. 57, no. 2, pp. 211-212

[4] Towns, pp. 210

[5] The Pensacola Journal, May 16, 1975

[6] Towns, pp. 211-212

[7] Cerda, C. Crews remove Pensacola confederate monument. October 26, 2020. WEAR3TV. Web.

Other

Butler J. M. Beyond integration: The black freedom struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980. University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

AP Photo/Mark Foley

Courtesy of UWF Historic Trust

John C. Pace Library, University of West Florida

John C. Pace Library, University of West Florida

Florida Memory, State Library & Archives of Florida, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/136925