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Manatee Confederate Memorial Draws Debate

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BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB)--Across the country statues commemorating the Confederacy are drawing debate, particularly when they sit on public land. The argument is often split over heritage versus hate.

One of these statues stands outside the Manatee County Courthouse. Rodney Jones, President of the Manatee NAACP, passes the statue every day.

"You walk right by it," Jones said. "Never paid attention to it."

Until one day, Jones stopped and really looked at it.

"It's a very dark history and a very dark time for many African Americans in this country, so it's not something that we would celebrate," Jones said.

The statue reads "In memory of our confederate soldiers" and pays tribute to General Robert E. Lee and General Stonewall Jackson. Donated in 1924 by the Daughters of the Confederacy the statue has sat right next to the county courthouse for nearly a century.

It's a symbol Jones has come to associate with racism. As we spoke, a car parked right in front of the statue proudly displayed a confederate flag license plate.

"I think it's more savvy than it has been in the past. It's not right in your face. It's done through policy. It's done through other measures, but racism is very much alive and well," Jones said.

We stood out in front of the monument for about an hour to see what Manatee County residents really think about the statue. The vast majority told us they've actually never notice it, but many who were aware of it said it should stay.

"I think that's part of our history," Marianne Makar said.

"It's history here and I believe it should stay here," Trevor Carranza said.

Only one person told us she disagrees.

"To just the random person that walks by all the time, what's it saying? That we're in the South and we still feel that way," Terri Const said.

It's a debate facing communities across the nation. In New Orleans, a confederate statue was removed. In Orlando, one was simply relocated. And in Hillsborough County, commissioners voted for their memorial to remain in place.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports there are 1,500 Confederate statues in the country. Ryan Lenz is a senior investigative reporter for the organization. He attributes the spotlight on these monuments to the growing political divide in our country.

"Race is at the forefront of people's mind right now. So is tolerance and inequality," Lenz said. "I think we're living in a time when the United States is more radically polarized than ever. This is due to the political climate that we're living in and due to a number of other factors as well."

50 miles east of the statue in Manatee County is the town of Arcadia. Confederate flags, signs and bumper stickers are a common sight in Arcadia. At the town hang out, The Last Chapter Coffee House, nearly every customer is related to a confederate soldier, including Leon Arthur.

"They're American veterans and they deserve that respect," Arthur said. "They fought to defend our country against an invasion."

Arthur says taking down these statues is erasing history and dishonoring his ancestors. However, he says efforts to stop it are futile.

"The judges don't listen, the politicians don't listen," Arthur said. "The system does whatever it wants to do because we have no state rights."

Arthur refers to the civil war as the war of northern aggression.

"I believe the South was right in 1960, they were right today and they're going to be right tomorrow and we'll get our independence one day," Arthur said.

For Jones, the memorial in Manatee County isn't just a statue--it represents what he calls a culture of inequality.

"If you look at incarceration rates, unemployment rates, health disparities, academic attainment, anything that spells prosperity--we still lag so far behind other populations. So at some point you start to wonder what about me being encased in this beautiful brown skin is so causal for me to have such a challenging time here in America."