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From The Confederacy To One Human Family: Key West May Rededicate Century-Old Monument

A pavilion honoring the Confederacy has been in a Key West park since 1924. Now it could be dedicated to a new cause.
Nancy Klingener
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WLRN
The pavilion honoring the Confederacy has been in a Key West city park since 1924. Now it could be dedicated to a new cause. The statue of the Black Union soldier, behind, was installed in 2016.

Around the country, monuments celebrating Confederate leaders and slaveholders are being removed from public spaces. Key West has a Confederate memorial in a city park — and now a city commissioner wants to change its name.

In 1924, almost 1,000 people gathered in the rain at Bayview Park for the dedication of a pavilion that honored the Confederacy.

Nearly 100 years later, City Commissioner Sam Kaufman wants that same pavilion to be re-dedicated to a different cause.

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"For me, this started as something to right a wrong, if you will — the injustice of the naming of the pavilion that was dedicated in 1924 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy," Kaufman said.

The plaque at the foot of one of the pavilion's columns identifies it as being dedicated to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy.
Nancy Klingener
Many Key West residents have never noticed the plaque at the foot of one of the pavilion's columns, dedicating it to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy.

Kaufman wants to rename the pavilion after Key West’s official motto: "One Human Family." The city adopted that motto 20 years ago. His proposal is on the agenda for the Sept. 16 city commission meeting.

"One human family dictates that we're all human beings, regardless of our race, our religion, our gender, our identity, our orientation, whatever — we're all welcome here in Key West. Key West is a welcoming, inclusive community," Kaufman said.

Key West remained in Union hands throughout the Civil War, despite Florida being part of the Confederacy. But many locals sympathized with the Confederate cause.

The Key West Citizen described the dedication of the monument, held on Confederate General Robert E. Lee's birthday.

"A stirring dedicatory address about the Confederacy and the thousands of heroic Southerners who fought and died in striving to promote its cause, which they believed to be right, was delivered by J. Vining Harris," the paper reported. "Mr Harris also paid a glowing tribute to the Daughters of the Confederacy in their keeping alive a loving memory of the men who fought in the Southern armies."

J. Vining Harris is listed as the "klaliff" on a 1921 charter for a "Klan of the Keys" chapter.

A Klan charter for a Klan of the Keys chapter in 1921 lists the men who held officials positions.
Nancy Klingener
A charter for a "Klan of the Keys" chapter in 1921 lists the local leaders, including J. Vining Harris, who spoke at the dedication of the pavilion in Bayview Park in 1924. The charter was donated to the Monroe County Public Library.

According to the newspaper account, "Tennessee entertainers" played "Dixie." The chapter officially presented the pavilion to the city and it was "gratefully accepted on behalf of the city" by the mayor.

"Everyone then joined in singing 'The Star Spangled Banner,'" and the pastor of Memorial Methodist Church offered a benediction.

Kaufman said he did not consider calling for the pavilion to be demolished since it's a structure that doesn't represent a specific person or time period.

The only identifying markers are two plaques, low on the ground, at the bottom of two of the columns.

One says "To The Soldiers And Sailors Of The Confederacy." The other identifies it as being erected by the Stephen R. Mallory Chapter of the UDC.

"Most people I talk to have never really seen the plaques, don't know the plaques exist," Kaufman said. "I've thought about whether the plaques should be removed, whether they can be removed, and I'm open to that but I also like the reminder that this era existed. That's something we should discuss as a community."

Kaufman said the uglier sides of Key West's history should not be hidden away or forgotten.

"History is important, the good and the bad. We need to learn from it. And avoiding it and ignoring it is not good for our community," he said.

In 2016, another Civil War memorial was installed between the pavilion and a bandstand in the park. It honors Black soldiers who joined the Union Army in Key West in 1863.