A group of local activists spoke outside Jacksonville City Hall Friday morning, demanding a timeline for the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the city that was promised last month and a dialogue between themselves and local leadership.
The activists also celebrated the cancellation of the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, which President Donald Trump announced Thursday.
“With the breaking news of yesterday, I'm here today to tell you that activism matters,” said Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition. “We are going to continue to agitate, educate and organize here in Jacksonville.”
Wells Todd, an organizer for TakeEmDownJax, said he isn’t confident that Mayor Lenny Curry truly changed his thinking on the importance of removing Confederate statues.
“One of the reasons we are here is to ask Mayor Curry why he took the statue down in Hemming Park,” Todd said. “[Former] Mayor [Mitch] Landrieu of New Orleans wrote a book about it. He gave his reasoning, but this mayor has not, which leads me to believe he can turn around at any moment and say ‘I’ve changed my mind.’”
Todd also suggested that the Hemming Park Confederate statue removal was a tool used to settle down protests before announcing the RNC plans.
“It's a political ploy,” Todd said. “Curry has a political career in front of him. He's not stopping with just being mayor of Jacksonville. We all know that. And what we have to understand is that he needed to quiet Jacksonville down.”
Curry removed the Confederate statue in Hemming Park overnight on June 9, and announced that all Confederate statues and markers were coming down while taking part in a march with Sheriff Mike Williams and members of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since then, legislation has been introduced by City Council member Garrett Dennis to rename both Hemming Park and Confederate Park in Jacksonville. A new committee, called the Social Justice and Community Investment Special Committee, has also been created by newly-installed Council President Tommy Hazouri.
But activists still feel they’re being shut out from the conversation.
City officials told WJCT News they’re working on responding to the protester’s demands on a timeline, but had not sent it by the time of this story’s publication. This story will be updated when they do.
The list the of Confederate monuments slated to be removed that the city released in early June included:
- Monument to the Women of the Southland (Monument to the Women of the Confederacy)
- The Hemming Park Monument (Removed on June 9)
- Grandstand – Confederate Memorial Services
- 2 Maple Leaf Historic Markers (Union Transport Ship Sunken by Confederate Mine)
- Florida Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Home 1893 - 1938 Historic Marker
- Line of Entrenchment – Federal Occupation Force Historic Marker
- Skirmish At Cedar Creek Historic Marker
- 1914 United Confederate Veteran’s Reunion Historic Marker
- Camp Milton Historic Preserve - 23 Informational Signs and 58 Tree Signs Historic Marker
- In Memory of Our Beloved Ancestors – Ground Marker
“We demand an audience with the mayor,” Frazier said. “We demand to be heard. We will not be silenced or ignored. Our activism and attacks against systemic racism will continue...We are here today to let the powers know that we will not allow them to pay us with lip service, fake promises and lies.”
The group also attacked the proposed city budget for the next fiscal year, saying that too much of it is going to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
The Jacksonville Community Action Committee, which has helped coordinate some of the larger peaceful protests taking place in the city, proposed its own budget, which would slash JSO’s budget nearly in half, sinking more money into neighborhood infrastructure, Black entrepreneurs and small businesses, public libraries, and parks and recreation.
“We would like to see first off, just the easy stuff, which is changing Confederate statues, markers, Confederate school names, and also recognizing Andrew Jackson's crimes and taking his statue down,” said Mike Todd, lead organizer with the New Florida Majority of North Florida. “What's more important would be the racial equity that we aren't seeing, and to really give more money to neighborhoods and infrastructure that really need it. We need more money for our schools. We don't need more money for police.”
Todd isn’t very optimistic that the city’s current leadership is up to task on making the changes activists want to see.
“Taking down one statue is not gonna make us forget that we're still being murdered by police,” Todd said. “[Curry] and the state attorney and the sheriff really need to come together, look at the laws and stop openly telling us that they want to be good people, but they can't because of laws.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.