Johnny Reb, who has welcomed visitors to Lake Eola Park for 100 years, is caught in a national debate about what to do with Confederate monuments.
David Porter, a public relations firm owner, is asking the City of Orlando to remove the marble statue he calls “racist.” The former writer on the Orlando Sentinel’s Editorial Board urged city leaders in a YouTube video to remove it before the first anniversary of the Pulse tragedy on June 12.
“It is an enduring symbol of hatred and white supremacy over people of color,” said Porter, a black man who has lived in Orlando for more than 30 years. “When that was installed, the black people could not do anything about it. Today we can. That’s why I’m speaking up.”
The statue was commissioned by a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was erected in 1911 on Main Street, now called Magnolia Avenue, then moved to Lake Eola Park in 1917. Patriots used Johnny Reb and his Union counterpart, Billy Yank, to personify the common soldiers in the American Civil War of the 1860s.
This isn’t the first time Lake Eola’s Johnny Reb has sparked controversy.
In 2015, Organize Now launched a petition drive asking for the statue to be moved to a museum, following the racially-motivated massacre of nine people at a church in Charleston, S.C. Counter-petitions to keep the statue followed and Orlando officials asked staff to explore options for the future of the statue.
However, nothing was done.
Porter accused the city of sweeping the issue under the rug. ‘Why would it take staff two years, were they writing a doctoral dissertation?” he asked. Porter plans to speak about the statue’s removal at Monday’s Orlando City Council meeting, which starts at 2 p.m.
“The city has branded itself as “Orlando United,” Porter said. “How can we say we’re an inclusive city when we have an icon of white supremacy over our signature park on Lake Eola?”
Following the release of the YouTube video, on Orlando resident wrote to the mayor and city commissioners saying he wants the statue to stay.
“I look forward to having a civil dialogue and expressing the view of many millions of Southerners – black, white, Hispanic, and otherwise; Texan, Floridian, or Carolinian – who are sick to death of watching their heritage be destroyed in the name of tolerance, their history wiped from the earth in furtherance of a totalitarian agenda, Augustus Sol Invictus wrote in the letter.
Invictus is a retired attorney, who ran as a Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate last year and lost in the primary.
“I will be unarmed and I will issue strict orders to my supporters that this will be a peaceful, professional discussion,” he said in the letter.
The Lake Eola statue has been caught up in a national debate about how to preserve Civil War monuments. New Orleans officials on Thursday removed the century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, despite protests.
In February, the Orange County School Board approved renaming Lee Middle School, which was named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, to College Park Middle School.