A state plan to honor Union soldiers at Florida's largest Civil War battlefield fell apart this week after "furious" pro-Confederate locals commandeered a town hall meeting, including an African-American activist who called Northern troops rapists and led the crowd in a round of Dixie.
The state park system, which runs Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park 50 miles west of Jacksonville, had actually set up the town hall on Monday to decide where to place the monument. But "the discussion never got that far," according to the News Service of Florida:
Passions ran high, at one point erupting in a spontaneous chorus of "Dixie" led by a black man, H.K. Edgerton, who called Union soldiers rapists and wielded his large Confederate flag like a conductor's baton as the audience sang.
Speakers blasted the proposal as disturbing hallowed ground in a rural community where most families stay for generations.
"Putting a Union monument at Olustee would be like placing a memorial to Jane Fonda at the entrance to the Vietnam memorial," said Leon Duke, a wounded veteran.
The three-hour meeting ended in deadlock.
In case you're curious about H.K. Edgerton, the black man who defended the North Floridians' "hallowed ground" with his singing, he isn't actually from the Sunshine State: He's a carpetbagger with a cottage industry in defending "Southern heritage." The North Carolina resident—pictured above at a 2010 rally in Tennessee—claims to have been kicked out of the NAACP, has a robust speaking schedule and hawks apparel from Dixie Outfitters.
Not that Edgerton was the only Confederate agent provocateur at the town hall meeting: He was joined by Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley (R), an undertaker by trade, who won the crowd's approval by calling the Union monument undemocratic and suggesting he could stop it in the statehouse:
"There is a sacred trust that's being violated when you go in and change an historic site from the way it was commemorated by those who established (it)," Baxley said.
He suggested getting the matter "off the table" by means of a bill that he would sponsor. "I can do a very simple proposal to the Legislature that we protect all monument sites," Baxley said to cheers and applause.
Baxley, by the way, was also the chief author of Florida's Stand Your Ground law, and he helped export it to other states, for which the NRA gave him a Defender of Freedom Award. "We are not a rogue state," he told me of his efforts then, "but we may be a leader." Look away, Dixieland!