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Illustration by Shannon Nehiley

The future of Gainesville’s Confederate soldier statue.

After the protests, the teach-ins, the petitions and the sprawling, emotional speeches during public comment at local government meetings, the statue still stands.

“Old Joe,” the 111-year-old statue of a Confederate soldier, whose presence on downtown public property within view of several government buildings has been disputed since this summer, never got the relocation that had been promised.

On Sept. 22, the County Commission voted 3-2 to move the statue to the Matheson History Museum, a private nonprofit organization, which the county believed had expressed interest in accepting the statue. But on Oct. 28, the museum rejected the county’s draft agreement offer.

Alachua County Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson and community organizer Faye Williams are anticipated to meet in January with the Matheson History Museum board for the first time in person to discuss the Confederate statue in front of the Alachua County Administrative Building.

The draft agreement stated that “the cost of removal, transportation and placement of the Statue on the Museum Grounds … shall be fully born [sic] by the museum,” which would cost an estimated $10,000 to $15,000. Any artifacts or documents found underneath the statue’s base would belong to the county and not the museum.

“I’m willing to take responsibility for putting words in the Matheson’s mouth,” Hutchinson told Williams at an informal meeting on Dec. 10.

In an email sent on the day of the Matheson vote, Peggy Macdonald, executive director of the museum, spoke on behalf of the board when she wrote that the Matheson rejected the statue primarily because of financial and legal concerns.

In addition, the Matheson’s board of directors believed the county would maintain control over the placement of the statue, said Bob Ackerman, a Matheson board member. He said that the board believed that the county had wanted the statue placed on the museum’s limited property on University Avenue.

Hutchinson said he thought the Matheson may have misconstrued certain parts of the agreement. However, because they never had a county representative explain it fully, he said that the museum’s decision was understandable.

And, as Hutchinson admitted to Williams, the contract was less than perfect.

From Sept. 22 to Dec. 10, the confederate statue remained standing in its place on University Avenue and Main Street while plans concerning its future stagnated.

The talks of moving the statue began after the murder of nine African-Americans at a church service in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17.

“I’m willing to take responsibility for putting words in the Matheson’s mouth,” Hutchinson told Williams at an informal meeting on Dec. 10.

The shooting provoked an unprecedented examination of the United States’ racial history — one that initially began with the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and other unarmed African-Americans. It questioned what it meant for state and local governments to honor the Confederacy on public grounds.

For community activist Jesse Arost, statues like the soldier in downtown Gainesville serve as public endorsements of racism.

“Every day it stands there,” he said. “It continues to do exactly what it was put there to do: exalt white supremacy.”

On July 9, Arost and Williams led a rally at the Confederate statue, which provoked two counterprotests and garnered ample news coverage. This led to the commission meeting on Sept. 22, which concluded in a vote to donate the statue to the Matheson.

However, to many of the board members, the draft agreement felt like a slap in the face, Ackerman said. The county did not consult the board before making the decision to donate the statue, he said.

In addition, the museum, which plans to renovate a nearby building to build an archive, library and meeting space, could not raise the required funds to move the statue. Macdonald said the board members believed all fundraising would take place internally within the Matheson — in essence, directly from the museum’s funds. The Matheson wrote in an email to the county that it was unaware of any community fundraising efforts to support it.

The Matheson is still open to discussing accepting the statue, Macdonald said. On Nov. 4, at the request of County Manager Lee Niblock, she emailed the county on behalf of the Matheson board. She expressed interest in sending a counter-proposal but urged greater leadership at the county level in terms of raising funds to move the statue.

Hutchinson said at the Dec. 10 meeting that he is still committed to moving the statue.

“Every day it stands there,” he said. “It continues to do exactly what it was put there to do: exalt white supremacy.”

As a goodwill gesture, he suggested that he and Williams approach the Matheson together to show the community is committed to raising the money to move the statue.

“I assume [the Matheson’s] starting position is that [it] should have no need to raise funds for the move,” Hutchinson told the Fine Print in a text message. “So it’s once again up to the community to contribute.”

The campaign to remove the Confederate soldier will take responsibility for leading fundraising efforts, a steadfast position it has taken from the start, Arost wrote in a statement on Facebook.

Williams said, however, that the campaign would prefer to wait for concrete plans to be made before it begins its efforts.

Hutchinson added that “this will only succeed if there is a credible agent to solicit, account for, and disburse the funds as well as oversee the logistics of the project.”

So far the Matheson has recommended County Manager Lee Niblock for this task.

In the meantime, Hutchinson suggested placing a whiteboard on one side of the statue’s base, which would cover the text stating that the Confederate dead “counted the cost, and in defense of right, they paid the martyr’s price.”

He said community members could write what they think is an appropriate inscription for the statue, or they could lift the whiteboard to see the signage underneath. The results would be photographed every day until the statue is removed from its original place downtown.

Among the remaining issues is the question of contextualization: how the statue should be placed to properly interpret its history. Both Hutchinson and Mark Barrow, a founding member of the Matheson, suggested placing the statue in the museum’s “Walk Through Time,” a space behind the museum’s main building that explores American wars. If the Matheson rejects the statue a second time, Hutchinson and the campaign expressed interest in moving the statue to Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park.