By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A memorial recognizing the cruelty and inhumanity of slavery could soon be placed on the Florida Capitol grounds after the House unanimously passed a bill to create the monument.
Democratic Rep. Kionne McGhee gave an impassioned speech, at one point pausing 12 seconds as he nearly choked up, talking about the slaves that were whipped, raped and treated as property rather than people.
McGhee noted that a mural on the House floor depicts a woman slave. She’s carrying a basket of cotton with shackles beside her and standing in front of the 1826 territorial Capitol. Florida Gov. Andrew Jackson, who was later elected president, stands nearby. McGhee wondered what that woman would say to the House members as the prepared to vote.
He then talked about how slaves built the building behind the woman, and later the 1845 Capitol that still stands in front of the state’s modern Capitol. He talked about slaves building railroads and seawalls.
“Slaves cleared the fields, fought dangerous animals, filled swamps and died all because they wanted to see a better tomorrow,” McGhee said as many of his colleagues gathered behind him.
The bill language recognizes “injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States.”
McGhee also sponsored the bill last year, but it was blocked by a senator who is the descendent of a Confederate soldier. That senator, Republican Dennis Baxley, is supporting the bill this year. A senate bill has had unanimous support in two committees and has one more stop before being considered by the full chamber.
House members stood and applauded McGhee after the vote, and several members hugged him “It’s overwhelming emotionally,” McGhee said after the session ended.
A large monument solely acknowledging slavery would be unique among state Capitols.
The Tennessee Capitol grounds have a small engraved plaque on a marble pedestal dedicating an oak tree to the memory of Africans who died on slave ships on the journey to North America.
Texas and South Carolina have monuments to African-American history in their states, including acknowledgements of slavery as well as other contributions black residents have made. Outside Georgia’s Capitol is a statue honoring black lawmakers who were elected after the Civil War but expelled by white lawmakers. It also commemorates slavery and other episodes of African-American history.
And the most famous piece of public art in Kansas is a mural in the statehouse that depicts abolitionist John Brown, whose violent attacks on slavery supporters helped spark the Civil War.