Poll shows Lakeland opposes removing Confederate monument, group says

The Southern heritage group says a poll shows a majority wants people to stay, but not everyone agrees.

LAKELAND, Fla.  -- It’s one of the few Confederate monuments in the Bay Area that hasn’t been moved -- the statue of a Confederate soldier stands 35 feet up in Lakeland's Munn Park.

Following the relocation of other statues in Hillsborough and Manatee counties, there’s been a push to move this one, too. However, the organization Save Southern Heritage Florida said it shouldn’t even be a discussion.

“A monument is a monument. It affects no one,” Gail Jessee said.

The group paid for a poll of Lakeland voters, which found 86 percent of the respondents oppose removing the statue.

Still, there are people who want the statue taken down, or at least moved.

“I think it sends the wrong message about what our values are here,” Rachelle Stephenson said.

Stephenson said it doesn't belong in the center of the city, where it's stood for the last century. She said it’s better suited in a museum or Veterans Memorial Park in Lakeland.

She also argued the survey, which was made up of 89 percent white respondents, doesn’t represent Lakeland’s opinion on the monument.

“We are way more diverse than that,” she explained.

City commissioners hope to get a better idea in a couple of weeks. They're planning a public forum to discuss the statue's fate. Jessee said only people from Polk County should be allowed to speak at it.

“Those who come from other counties and other cities do not have a right to come here and tell us what should be done in our own county,” she said.

Even at the press conference where she spoke Thursday, several of the other speakers came from outside of Polk, showing the debate over this monument has significance beyond the city limits.

The Lakeland City Commission will hold a public forum on November 14 at 6 p.m. at the RP Funding Center.

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