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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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One Civil War Battle of Olustee Monument – Two Views – Back to Square One for Lake City


Observer graphic and photos

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On February 20, 1864, Southern Confederate soldiers defeated the North in the Battle of Olustee. Just shy of sixty-four years later, in 1928, on land owned by Columbia County, a monument was erected to commemorate the lost lives of the Confederate soldiers. In 2020 Columbia County/Lake City, the Battle of Olustee continues.

Recent Background

Spurred by the death of George Floyd, post Civil War monuments throughout the South have been coming down and relocated from public property.


County 5 Chairman Toby Witt gave everyone a chance to speak disregarding the County's  inappropriate 2 minute limit.

In Columbia County/Lake City, the battle to move or not to move the Battle of Olustee monument is ongoing.

This past Thursday evening, September 3, the debate came before the Columbia County 5, the Commission, which is elected to run Columbia County.

Recently, the Lake City Council had voted to remove the commemorative monument from what is known as Olustee Park in downtown Lake City.

In various fits and starts, the City has not definitively determined the ownership of the land on which the monument sits, or who owns the monument.

Recently, the City Clerk's Office was tasked with the investigation. It came up empty-handed.


Fred Koberlein, Jr.

The investigation was then turned over to controversial City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., who has given no reports or updates to the City Council.

Yesterday afternoon, your reporter asked City Manager Joe Helfenberger, "Who suggested the City ask Columbia County for a quitclaim deed for Olustee Park?"

Mr. Helfenberger answered, "Fred Koberlein suggested it."

Referring to the recent City meetings about the Olustee monument, your reporter followed up, "Did he mention this at the meeting?"

Mr. Helfenberger answered, "He doesn't hardly say anything at the meetings."

Your reporter asked again, "Did he [Koberlein] mention it at the meeting?"

Mr. Helfenberger answered, "No, he did not."

As you will see later on in this article, the newly re-elected District 5 Commissioner and budding "big time" politician Tim Murphy took umbrage that the City Manager was not in attendance at the County 5 meeting.

Your reporter asked City Manager Helfenberger about his lack of appearance at the September 3 County 5 meeting.

Mr. Helfenberger said, "As far as attendance, I asked Ben Scott [County Manager] if I needed to be there and he said no."

Thursday's Meeting
County Manager Introduces the City's Request


City Manager Helfenberger's request for a quitclaim deed.            Click to enlarge.

County Manager Ben Scott introduced the agenda item: "Request from City to Issue Quitclaim Deed for Olustee Park."

County Manager Ben Scott works closely with County Attorney Joel Foreman, his friend and next-door neighbor.

County Attorney Foreman was involved with City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., in discussing the pros and cons of the County 5 issuing the quitclaim deed to the City.

There are those among the highest-ranking County officials who believe the man running the County is Attorney Foreman.

Officials in the County believe County Manager Scott would not request the approval of a quick claim deed for Olustee Park to the City without the advice and counsel of his friend and County Attorney Joel Foreman.

County Manager Scott addressed the County 5: "We're asking the board to approve a request from the City for a quitclaim deed for Olustee Park."

Chairman Witt asked for speakers*

Danny Roberts, Columbia County FLDanny Roberts told the County 5: "The City is going to stir up a hornet's nest with this monument... I'm asking this board to dismiss this quick claim deed and let the City solve its own problem... Keep the County out of this. If we don't own it, we need to stay out of it."

 

Lifelong resident and well known Columbia County resident Bruce Borders:  "We go back eight generations... I have Chad Davis with me."

Mr. Borders explained that Mr. Davis' family was "Confederates" who were originally from Lafayette County.


Bruce Borders (right) with Chad Davis (left)

Mr. Borders said, "The City cannot show today where they own property (Olustee Park)... That monument belongs to the County."

"I don't care if you – whatever you take down – there's one thing about it. You cannot take my Confederate ancestors out of my heart... We haven't asked them to take no Martin Luther King monuments down, Rosa Parks and other monuments like that. The only thing we want is to be able to honor and remember our ancestors... and my family never did own a slave."

Lisa Waltrip, Columbia County FLMs. Lisa Waltrip addressed The 5: "Looking at the property appraiser's website, it shows the City of Lake City owns that property [Olustee Park]. How is the County going to deed it to the City if there is no legal description showing that you own it?"

Chairman Witt assured Ms. Waltrip that after everyone had spoken that issue would be answered.

Luca Harvey, Columbia County FLMs. Luca Harvey addressed The 5:  "All of us have family members that are connected to the monument. My uncle's name's on it. It's been there all my life... Why would we turn over something that belongs to the County? If it belongs to the County, then it belongs to the people... What's going to happen when it comes time for the Olustee Festival? We make a lot of money there... [Addressing some member of the audience] I don't know about you all – pants down to your knees and things like that – that's offensive to me. If we're going to move monuments out of the Park, then we need to move all of it. We need to start changing road names, Martin Luther King Drive and all that..."

Patrick Schwankoff, Columbia County FLMr. Patrick Schwankoff addressed The 5: "Given the state of our nation right now is in turmoil and things are changing rapidly, my concern is regardless whether this good, whether it was fought for was good or bad, I am very concerned with the rapid change we are experiencing. It is clear this monument means a whole lot to this community. I would urge you to be slow to making a decision. I have three children who need to learn our history and not an edited version of our history. That monument is a physical contact to our past. Again, I urge you to use extreme caution in this matter."

Joseph Huges, Columbia County FLMr. Joseph Hughes addressed The 5: "I also urge you guys to tread lightly with this subject. The mainstream media would have everybody believe that the Civil War was fought simply over slavery. We all know it was not. It was tyranny from government. There's a large group of people here – are Southern proud. This is where we grew up. This is where our grandfathers fought for that flag, and the other one (points to a confederate flag in the audience) and I would just really urge you guys to take all this in consideration before we take a drastic measure in a small community and let other problems that are happening all over this country – we don't see them here. This stuff does not happen in Lake City, Columbia County. We hold doors for each other. We shake hands. We do it different because we are Southern proud, all of us."

Suzzanne Wast, Columbia County FLMs. Suzanne Wast addressed The 5: "I hadn't planned on speaking. My family comes from the Mayflower in 1621. I go way back. Rewriting history, it cannot be done. This monument stands for the people here. Let the people vote on it. This is our history in Lake City. I do not want to see us bullied into doing something that would be very shameful. I, for one, will be standing next to that monument and stay there as long as need be."

Tara Bailey, Columbia County FLMs. Tara Bailey addressed The 5: "Years ago with the Holocaust in Germany, you don't necessarily see people with their statutes. Monuments of Hitler were taken down because of the mass emotional effect that some people may have had. It would be acceptable if it [the Olustee monument] would go in a museum where people could see it. If it really might cause so much harm and offense to some people, I don't think it should be out and celebrated."

Vanessa GeorgeMs. Vanessa George addressed the 5: "There was black Confederates, but did those black Confederates have a choice? No. 'I need to go fight in master's place. He sent me in his place.' Yes, we had black Confederates, but they didn't always go on their own accord. That's why you have families that have descendants of black Confederates.

"Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks never taught about division. They talked about separation. The Confederacy, that's division. If we are going to be honest, the Confederacy: all those were traitors of the United States."

"Somebody said what's goin' on, it's not happening here. It's not happening to you. In my community, we go through it every day. So don't say it's not happening here. Say you don't know about it because it's not happening to you."

Robert Tucker, Columbia County, FLMr. Robert Tucker was the final speaker: "I have two ancestors that were killed during the Battle of Olustee. All it is (the quitclaim deed) is an appeasement. I recommend that you all keep it intact [the monument in the Park]. Keep our history intact."

County Attorney Foreman and The 5 Weigh In

Mr. Foreman explained that the quitclaim deed would not actually determine ownership of Olustee Park. Mr. Foreman went on about common law and other things, but Attorney Larry Evan Bray made a simple explanation of a quitclaim deed on the net:

"When you use a quitclaim deed to transfer real estate, you are not making any promises or guarantees about the title. This means there is a greater amount of risk for the grantee in accepting a quitclaim deed. If it came to light you did not have full or proper title to the land, the grantee would not get the property. This is why this transfer method is typically used for individuals who know and trust each other and not between strangers.

Mr. Foreman explained that he had conversation with City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.

County Attorney Joel Foreman
County Attorney Joel Foreman ignored the staff's support of the quitclaim deed.

Mr. Foreman said, "There has been substantial time, effort, and money invested in trying to determine true ownership of this Park. In recent history the Park has been maintained by the City. The quitclaim deed basically wipes out all the legal work that would be necessary to determine which entity owns it (City or County). If the County quitclaims it to the City, it resolves the issue and it ends the legal dispute."

Mr. Foreman mentioned that the City could still sue the County regardless of the quitclaim deed.

Battle of Olustee Obelisk
The Olustee Battle Obelisk was dedicated on County land in 1918.            Observer Photo

What nobody is mentioning is that should some group of individuals, ancestors of the fallen, or others that could establish standing decide to sue the City/County, this issue could end up in the courts for years and could become Columbia County's Stone Mountain.

Commissioner Ronald Williams said for that as long as he could remember the City maintained the Park. He continued, "I don't see where the County have any ownership, whatsoever, in Olustee Park."

Commissioner Murphy said, "I concur with Commissioner Williams.

Commissioner Murphy added, "I'm dumbfounded that there is nobody here to speak for the City... It's their fight. It ain't my fight."

Commissioner Nash said, "This is a very sensitive issue. I get that. When I walked in here, I was prepared to do a quitclaim deed and just move on... I don't think it's for me to determine who owns that piece of property... It's a cowardly thing for me to do, to run away from such a sensitive topic."

Commissioner Witt said, "You cannot convince me that the County has any right to ownership to that Park... How can you give a quitclaim if we don't own it?"

Attorney Foreman gave some more explanation about quitclaim deed concepts and said, "The only reason for the quitclaim deed is to obviate those risks that you're going to find something. Is this time-sensitive? Not as far as I'm concerned. We brought it forward because the City asked for it."

Yes, they did. The County brought it forward because the City Manager asked for it. However, the County Manager recommended approval, and it is difficult to believe that Mr. Scott did that in a vacuum, without the input of his friend Joel Foreman, who couldn't run fast enough from the County staff's recommendation for approval.

The County 5 voted unanimously not to approve the City's quitclaim deed request.

Epilogue

Yesterday afternoon your reporter asked City Manager Helfenberger about his plans for the monument.

He said, "I'm continuing to talk to parties that would be interested in accepting the monument."

*comments are abridged

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Sept. 9, 2020, Mike Martin wrote:

The Monument in our downtown park belongs to the citizens of Lake City and Columbia County. Any decision to change, alter or move to any other location should be a plain and simple choice made by the citizens through a referendum vote.

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On Sept. 8, 2020, Tyrell Perry of Lake City wrote:

I understand it's the history of white founding father's in this county. If you want to keep the monument cool, keep it because I see the South is what it is. Who cares if General Joseph of the confederate killed many blacks and had slaves. Oh well I'm not black wasn't my ancestors.

Lake City says it's about their children learning the history but is not the full history. White kids learn the pretty side of the history as well as black kids. Columbia County teachers do not discuss how them soldiers on the monument tortued many blacks and had slaves in Ellisville. Let all different races of children know the real history. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Why are citizens of Columbia County that want the monument to stay are afriad to tell the full truth of this county history. Some of those names on that monument had family members that were racist judges that sentence blacks unjustly. My grandfathers told me the other side od the history of Lake City, that not teacher decided to reach.

Tell the story of Fort White how blacks were castrated.

I served in the U.S. Army, two deployment to Afghanistan. When I was 12 years old in 1992, the KKK didn't want BLACKS at Lake City Middle School. I remember the Olustee Festival with the Confederate flag and grown white adults were encouraging the HATE.

I know this your city, land, and county. I just ask that you do not continue to white wash the history. Tell the full history so the next generation have a freedom of opinion and not manipulated to tradition of the South thinking this is how it supposed to be.

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On Sept. 6, 2020, Jacob Summerlin wrote:

This whole movement to scrub anything Confederate from public view has gotten ridiculous. All these local governments seem to think they have to rush it through before someone can change their minds.

In our country we are constantly told to let the people decide on issues that affect the general public. With that said, I think these local issues should be put to a vote by citizens of the locality in question, not decided on by a handful of politicians who will vote whichever way they think will help their careers.

If this was done, I think it would satisfy people much more than the current method.

Al Massey, Commander
Jacob Summerlin Camp 1516
Sons of Confederate Veterans

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On Sept. 6, 2020, Bud Thayer wrote:

 

I as well as millions of other folks refuse to believe any of our historical monuments have in any way possible caused any of the Black folks in this country to become responsible for vast majority of crime they are responsible for which is over 70% (more than all the other races combined), or the over 70% of Black babies born out of wedlock each year, or the fact that over 90% of Black murders are caused by Blacks.

Nor do I think the monuments have anything to do with the confrontational attitude Blacks display when stopped by law enforcement. And yes, they are stopped more often because they're responsible for the vast majority of crime, so why wouldn't they be??

I for one am getting mighty upset with so many weak need politicians in many areas that are too scared to stand up to these "culture cancel" folks who delight in abolishing the history of this great country. History is something we should be learning from, not ignoring things that have happened in the past whether good or bad. As has been said before, if we refuse to learn from our history, both the good and the bad, we're doomed to repeat it.

The Olustee Festival and battle re-enactment is there for anyone interested in learning more about our history if they would only take the time.

LEAVE THE MONUMENT ALONE!!
Bud Thayer

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On Sept. 6,2020, Andrew Barlow wrote:

If the Marxists want to erase history and culture, so be it. That means all of it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of it .

 

 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

 
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