'Fight for what is right': One woman's battle to keep a Confederate statue out of her community

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Mae Hazelton says that moving a Confederate statue into a government-owned building widely known for its racism and oppression against African Americans was just wrong.
Tavares, Florida (CNN) As Mae Hazelton walked along West Main Street in Tavares, Florida, in her Sunday best, painful childhood memories took over her.

Now 65, she remembered seeing crosses burning in the distance and drinking from a water fountain with signs that read "colored" and "white only." As she approached the Old Lake County Courthouse, the fear she felt as a girl walking those same streets rushed through her body.

The Old Lake County Courthouse stands a the center of the Confederate statue controversy.

"I think about the Black men that were beaten there and tortured there," Hazelton said.

But she also remembered her grandmother Nellie Virginia Burkes' wise words, "Fight... for what is right."

Hazelton has been in the fight of her life for the past two years.

It started in June 2018, when she learned that the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith was scheduled to move from the US Capitol to the Old Lake County Courthouse.

That's the same courthouse where in 1949 four young African American men, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas -- known as the Groveland Four -- were accused of a crime they didn't commit, tortured and subjected to racially motivated oppression.

A tribute to George Floyd rests on the memorial erected for the Groveland Four at the Old Lake County Courthouse.

A memorial for the Groveland Four was erected outside the Old Lake County Courthouse last year, when the young men were posthumously pardoned

"The brutality and injustice that these men endured resulted in the wrongful death of Mr. Thomas and Mr. Shepherd, and the unfair incarcerations of Mr. Irvin and Mr. Greenlee," the plaque on the memorial reads.

Standing by the memorial, Hazelton said that moving a Confederate statue into a government-owned building known for its racism and oppression against African Americans was just wrong.

"It's evil and wrong and we shouldn't have it here in our community," Hazelton said.

The statue was…
Rosa Flores and Sara Weisfeldt, CNN
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