BRANDON, FL – So far, it hasn’t raised a ruckus. And that suits Hillsborough County commissioners just fine.
With little fanfare, the county relocated the controversial Tampa Confederate monument from the front of the old Hillsborough County Courthouse at 419 Pierce St. in downtown Tampa to the small, relatively unknown Brandon Family Cemetery on Brandon Boulevard and Pinewood Avenue.
The statue’s relocation came after a much-publicized debate between Confederate historians who argued that Florida’s involvement in the Civil War should not be overlooked and residents who protested that the monument was racist because it glorified soldiers who fought to retain slavery.
Last summer, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to keep the 106-year-old statue but move it to a more discreet location.
Although the Brandon Family Cemetery sits just feet off busy SR 60, many residents aren’t aware of the cemetery’s existence.
It serves as the resting place for the descendants of John Brandon, who founded the community after coming to Florida in 1857. John and Martha Brandon’s son, James Henry Brandon, joined the Confederate army at the age of 20. He was captured at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee and sent to a Union prison camp in Rock Island, Illinois.
When he returned to Brandon, he built the iconic two-story antebellum home at 401 W Brandon Blvd, Brandon, in 1876, for his wife, Johanna, and their seven children.
Longtime Brandon resident Dick Stowers converted the house into a funeral home in 1960 and carefully preserved the interior rooms with Victorian furniture and Brandon historical photos and artifacts.
The Brandon Family Cemetery is located just northeast of the old Brandon homestead. It is the final resting place of James Henry Brandon and other community pioneers who fought for the Confederacy.
The picturesque cemetery is still used and maintained by the descendants of Brandon’s founding family, most of whom now live in Riverview.
The last burials took place in 2015 when Michael Jordan Brandon died at the age of 78 and 2016 when Otis L. Brandon died at the age of 86.
While the descendants of James Henry Brandon remained quiet during last summer’s debate, they had no objection to putting the memorial intended to honor their ancestor and other Hillsborough County residents who fought for the Confederacy in the family cemetery.
Although the monument can be viewed from a distance, it is kept behind a locked gate to which only members of the Brandon family have a key.
A modern security camera system was added to deter vandalism.
The marble statue, unveiled in 1911 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the South’s succession, features two Confederate soldiers standing on either side of an obelisk.
One is dressed in a fresh uniform, eager to join the battle. The other is heading back home in tattered clothing.
The county commission agreed to pay for half of the $285,000 cost of relocating the monument. The other half was raised within 24 hours by members of the community, including former Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy.
The high cost was due to the need build a stable foundation for the heavy statue and to repair weak spots in the marble that have surfaced over the years.
Once a familiar sight in downtown Tampa, the statue now rests just a few feet from James Henry Brandon’s gravesite where, so far, it hasn’t provoked much controversy.
"It found a nice home and, hopefully, it will be respected in that location," said Valrico resident Lynea Warren D’Angelo.
"The cemetery looks better than I ever remember it," said Valrico resident Melissa Poage. "If the monument created that environment, I’m all for it. Those folks buried there and their families deserve the respect and best care for their forever resting place. Kudos to Brandon for doing the right thing."
Of course, there will continue to be those residents who prefer to leave that bleak part of America’s history in the past.
"The Confederacy lost," said Brandon resident Allison Burke Freeman. "It was defeated, and rightly so. Let’s move on. I do not understand why we’re still celebrating this dark time in our nation’s history with these statues."
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Image via D’Ann Lawrence White