The Jacksonville City Council Neighborhoods Committee voted Monday to recommend the full council withdraw a bill to designate Hemming Park’s confederate monument a historical landmark.
Council president Lori Boyer called for the withdrawal, but said she wants to bring back a more thought-out plan for preserving the park’s history.
“History often requires an explanation and it often requires a story of what has changed from then or where we are,” Boyer said. “I think what we need to figure out is how we incorporate those two things and make that happen together.”
In the bill, Hemming Park’s 62-foot marble and bronze confederate soldier monument and a large coquina rock that served as a road marker for the intersection of Alligator and Old Kings Roads would have both been designated historical landmarks.
The relocation of either monument would require special approval from the historic preservation commission if they’re deemed landmarks.
But since the bill’s introduction in August, people have had mixed reactions to protections for the confederate statue.
At last week's hearing on the bill, a number of people spoke in favor of historical designation, including Save Southern Heritage Florida member Seber Newsome, who said he wants the statue to stay there forever.
“This statue was put up to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Newsome said.
At the same meeting, some council members, like Reggie Brown, felt differently. He said the statue’s presence is offensive to some.
“Have we thought about finding an area, like we have the Confederate Park, and just put all the confederate statues in the area?” Brown asked Jacksonville Historical Society Executive Director Emily Lisska, who spoke at the meeting.
Lisska, who supports a historic designation for the whole park, said she doesn’t recommend moving the statute, but thinks pairing it with information that tells the whole story of the statue could be a solution.
“I’ve created exhibits on Andrew Jackson — the good, the bad and the ugly,” Lisska said. “We tell history in it’s entirety and it’s whole.”
Boyer said Lisska’s comments are part of what inspired her to rethink the bill. But she also said the bill has been a “can of worms” partly because its introduction was recommended by the historic preservation commission, instead of by a council member or the mayor. She said no one’s taken ownership of it.
Over the last few months, the bill did go through some changes. Originally, the bill would have granted the whole park historical protections, but committee members had voted to only protect the monuments in fear the original bill would have made making any changes to the park difficult.
“They did not want to have to go through the historic preservation commission if they decided to alter the current layout or the current design of the park,” Boyer said.
In a previous interview, City Planning Supervisor Joel McEachin said changes to the park — like the proposed addition of a stage — will not require special permission from the commission. But in both versions of the bill, the monuments would.
Boyer said the bill was first recommended by the historical preservation commission after people were concerned Hemming Park management was planning to remove the statue. Friends of Hemming Park has since denied plans to remove the monument, besides, Boyer added Tuesday, they’re not allowed to.
“I think we have since concluded and made it abundantly clear that nobody does any capital reconstruction in Hemming Park without the approval of the mayor and the administration,” Boyer said.
The city acquired Hemming Park in 1866 and named it after Jacksonville Confederate veteran Charles C. Hemming, who gifted the Confederate statue standing in the middle of the park. The statue is one of the few pieces of Jacksonville that survived the Great Fire of 1901.
The park also became recognized as the epicenter of Jacksonville’s Civil Right’s movement in the 1960s.
Boyer didn’t say when a new bill on the matter would be introduced.
Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.