Protect Confederate Memorials, Says Black State Rep. Mike Hill

Rep. Mike Hill
Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Mike Hill
In public spaces across Florida, at least 30 monuments honor Confederate soldiers. Many of the tributes glorify members of the renegade army that declared war on the United States as "uncrowned heroes" or "a noble band" and celebrating their "dauntless valor."

It would become illegal to remove any of those memorials — plus the Confederate flag and other symbols, as well as street and school names honoring Confederate soldiers —  under a bill proposed by a Republican state lawmaker from Pensacola. Mike Hill, the first black state representative elected from the Panhandle since the Civil War, argues they should be preserved because of their educational value.

"It will not change any person's life today by tearing down a Confederate monument or tearing down a statue or tearing down a cross," Hill tells New Times. "It will not change any person's life by doing that. What it will do is prevent someone from learning the history of why it was there in the first place."

Like many defenders of Confederate monuments, and unlike most historians, he minimizes the role of slavery in that history. While acknowledging that the continued enslavement of black Americans was part of what caused the Civil War, Hill argues the war was fought primarily for money, but also for states' rights and preservation of a "lifestyle."

But wasn't that lifestyle built on keeping people in chains?

"Slavery was a part of it," Hill says. "And we as a nation overcame that; we fought a terrible war — over 600,000 people died — so that we could rid this nation of slavery. I think that is something that we shouldn't erase or try to run away from. That is something that we should understand, know and be proud of, that we were a nation that did that."

Perhaps best known for trying to move Donald Trump's twice-pickaxed Hollywood Walk of Fame star to Pensacola, the Air Force veteran, insurance agent, and Tea Party leader was first elected to the Florida House in a 2013 special election following the death of Republican Rep. Clay Ford. While in office, Hill sponsored bills to limit which physicians can provide abortions and to honor the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

In 2016, Hill lost a bid for the Florida Senate. He ran for the state House's District 1 seat this year and upset opponent Rebekah Bydlak, who was better funded and endorsed by groups including the NRA and Florida Right to Life.

On the campaign trail, Hill was called out by fellow Republicans for sexist and racist comments against other conservatives. The Republican Liberty Congress pointed to a social media post he liked and shared that questioned how Bydlak could lead without ever having been a mother.

The group also cited a post Hill wrote pointing out the Palestinian heritage of conservative U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a Bydlak supporter. It was especially notable in light of other social media posts from Hill that have called for expelling the "demonic Muslim horde,” called Islam a "cult" that worships the "demon god," and described Islam as a "cancer."

The bill that would protect Confederate monuments is the first Hill has filed for the upcoming legislative session. Under its terms, no remembrance on public property could be relocated except for construction, repair, or improvements. In those cases, the memorial would have to be back within 90 days. Additionally, intentionally damaging a remembrance would become a third-degree felony.

Hill says the legislation, which also amends the definition of veteran under Florida law to include those who fought in the Civil War, as well as the Anglo-Spanish War, American Revolution, and other conflicts, is not just about Confederate statues. He pointed to news stories about the recent theft of a Frederick Douglass statue.

"This goes well beyond just Confederate monuments," he says.

Protecting Confederate memorials was a theme during Hill's campaign. He cited his endorsement from GOP for Beautiful Statues and wrote on his Facebook page that he pledged to "pass legislation that will protect our history" and keep Pensacola's Confederate monument standing.

Hill also used the monument as a backdrop for his Facebook live video about Trump's star, and accused Bydlak of wanting to remove the statue, which says the Confederate soldiers' "unchallenged devotion and matchless heroism shall continue to be the wonder and inspiration of the ages.”

He's critical of the decision to change the name of an Orlando-area school that honored General Robert E. Lee, whom he described as "a gentleman, a Christian, and a man of great valor who should be revered" — not "some racist." 

"It's ridiculous to spend money like that because somebody says their feelings were hurt," Hill tells New Times. "Why should we spend public money to protect someone's feelings?"

Last year, after a white supremacist killed a woman during a neo-Nazi rally organized to protest the removal of a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, a Broward lawmaker proposed a bill exactly the opposite of Hill's. Democratic State Rep. Shevrin Jones, who is also black, wanted to remove every Confederate statue, sign, and name from public property in Florida.

That bill never made it to a vote.