Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush faced a similar decision as South Carolina officials — whether to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds — more than a decade ago.
With far less fanfare, Bush as Florida’s governor 14 years ago removed the Confederate flag from the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee.
“Regardless of our views about the symbolism of the … flags — and people of goodwill can disagree on the subject — the governor believes that most Floridians would agree that the symbols of Florida’s past should not be displayed in a manner that may divide Floridians today,” a Bush spokeswoman said at the time.
On Feb. 2, 2001, Bush quietly retired the flag and placed it in the Museum of Florida History.
Though his action drew scant public attention at that moment, Floridians soon responded with a mix of praise and vile for the then-governor’s decision, according to a review of his email correspondence.
“It is deeply disturbing to see all of this ethnic cleansing that has suddenly emerged in almost all the Southern states today,” one Republican supporter wrote Bush a month later. “I am very proud of my Confederate ancestors and I feel I have rights too, but I feel my rights are being trampled on and the various government officials are standing by and letting these loud-mouth people ignorant of history, remove all the symbols of the Confederacy and my ancestors.”
Another supporter told Bush his decision saddened her.
“We should be able to remember ‘all’ of the history from the South which includes this,” she wrote that February. “History is history! It is not discrimination but history and ‘everyone’ should realize that. I think by removing the flag you are bowing to minority pressure vs. taking a stand and leaving up another portion of the Southern heritage.
“The Civil War was not fought only for slavery, but for independence. I wish people of all races would realize what the Confederate flag really represents and if they did, they would not resent the flag.”
In 2004, three years after the flag was retired, tensions still stirred for some.
“I would like to know why we can have a whole month to hear about black history. But every time a southerner raises his heritage the proud CONFEDERATE Flag we are considered a hate group or racist,” another correspondent wrote. “The Confederate flag is Southern Heritage not HATE.”
A year later, in December 2005, a writer ended his email plea to Bush in all capital letters. “PLEASE GIVE US BACK OUR HERITAGE, REPLACE THE CONFEDERATE FLAG TO ITS PROPER PLACE, ABOVE THE CAPITAL BUILDING,” he wrote. “YOU WILL SOON BE GONE FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA, BUT THE SCARS YOU LEAVE WILL ALWAYS BE HERE.”
In 2001, one writer said Bush “risks the next election by taking the action he took on removing the flag.”
Yet Bush won the next election in Florida — and not everyone was as outraged by his decision to move the flag to a history museum.
One fellow Republican, from Orange County in the Orlando area, told Bush he disagreed with those in the party who had criticized his move.
“I believe that the action to remove the confederate flag was an appropriate and appreciated act of respect to many Floridians — especially African-Americans — for whom it holds a very different, and far less positive meaning,” he wrote in March 2001, a month after the flag came down. “I applaud you for respecting those wishes and sensibilities from communities whose wishes and sensibilities have not always been respected.”
Just after the flag came down in 2001, a woman wrote Bush, “You have no right to impose your northern prejudices and misconceptions on the people of Florida and to snub your nose at its history.”
The governor replied that the flags would be “respectfully displayed” at the history museum. And he added a P.S.: “I am a Floridian born and raised in Texas.”
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