Community activist Ben Frazier: 'His legacy lives on'
Amid chants of “Do all the good you can" and "Keep fighting," more than 150 people remembered late community activist Ben Frazier at an emotional vigil Tuesday at James Weldon Johnson Park.
Standing near a plaque honoring late President John F. Kennedy, fellow community activists joined City Council members and Mayor-elect Donna Deegan in the same place where Frazier would stand and protest that the city should "take 'em down" — a reference to Confederate monuments from that very park and a nearby cemetery.
Frazier, 73, lost his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Saturday. But those who fought with him in the Northside Coalition and other civil rights activities joined forces with friends to not just mourn his passing on Tuesday, but to vow to continue his fight.
That included his daughter Kelly Frazier, who told WJCT News that her father is not gone.
“His legacy lives on through me, through everybody that supported him, with Northside Coalition, as do all the residents of Jacksonville who also supported and stood for what he was trying to do here," Kelly Frazier said. "The thing that stands out the most would definitely be the visit to the U.N. Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination in Switzerland. He was very proud of that to speak in front of such a powerful audience. That is one of what we had hoped would be many to come.”
As he held a sign saying "We Are Ben Frazier," longtime Northside Coalition member Maceo George said they will continue his fight because his friend "educated us, he taught us how to stand up and speak out." Then he got emotional as he remembered being at his friend's bedside on Saturday to say farewell.
"I had to give him some words of encouragement to let him know that we would continue his fight. I said, 'Don't worry, your legacy will continue; the name of Ben Frazier will live forever in Jacksonville,'" George said. "Then he started breathing hard. He started acting like he wanted to say something, but I said 'Don't say anything Ben. I know what you want to say.'"
Frazier is a Raines High School alumni and retired broadcast journalist, the first Black TV anchor at Jacksonville's WJXT-TV. He formed the Northside Coalition in 2016 to improve social, racial, and economic justice in that community, one of his first projects pushing for better pedestrian safety on New Kings Road.
The former television news anchor has been a frequent and vocal critic at government meetings in recent years, joining protests for independent review of Jacksonville's police shootings. He also led many protests to remove Confederate monuments from city parks and was a loud voice at rallies on racial equality.
He was arrested in early 2022 when he tried to attend one of the governor's news conferences at Jacksonville's state Department of Health facility. Decrying DeSantis' stance on COVID-19 measures, Frazier was one of a dozen protesters who tried to attend the news conference, but he was the only person arrested and removed.
In mid-January, he and multiple speakers pressed City Council members to get rid of the city's Confederate monuments, just a week after a group called Save Southern Heritage rented a plane to fly a Confederate flag over Jacksonville. His demands that the City Council "act with leadership, that you act with courage" and get rid of the large Confederate statue in Springfield Park ended with his brief arrest, after he refused repeated requests to stop speaking during a public comment period.
"We fought the Civil War to keep my people in chains," Frazier said that night. "We will wait no longer! We say, take the monuments down. We have chosen to engage in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, forcing the demand that you act with leadership, that you act with courage. Stop kicking the can down the road."
Prosecutors dropped the trespass charge against Frazier for the arrest during the DeSantis visit. They also dropped charges of trespassing, resisting a police officer and obstruction of proceedings before city agencies after the December arrest.
In August, Frazier was invited to Geneva to address the United Nations Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination. Frazier specifically spoke out against DeSantis' controversial Combating Public Disorder Act, which Frazier said violates an international treaty calling for the elimination of racism and discrimination.
One of Frazier's last tweets was June 14, as he showed images of himself getting treatment for his cancer, and standing with fellow activists at City Hall. In it, he asked that Jacksonville become "a city that's too busy to hate! What the world needs now is Love. Let's fight cancer and win!" But his nine-month battle with cancer ended late Saturday, the day after he turned 73.
Among the many who spoke during the hourlong vigil was Christina Kittle, who worked side by side with Frazier at many protests and events as Florida Rising’s Duval County lead organizer. Calling him a "big force in this community" who helped her find her voice, Kittle said her best memory of Frazier was when they were invited in 2020 to speak to Mayor Lenny Curry, then-sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
She said she was so nervous, but Frazier calmly asked her "about their game plan."
"The thing I learned from him is just dream really big and go for the big goals even when people are telling you that it's ridiculous and never going to happen," she said. "Ben helped so many people that we don't even know about."
When Deegan spoke to the crowd, she remembered how she would tease Frazier, a former TV anchor, about what she called “the voice of God” when he would speak with passion on issues.
“There was no voice more melodious when he wanted to be, and no voice that spoke with more power," Deegan said. "That man did everything he did out of love for the people. He saw everybody; he loved everybody; he believed so deeply in justice for everybody, but in unity and in love. It was all from a place of deep love with Ben.”
Kelly Frazier said funeral arrangements are still being made but should be announced Wednesday.