A group of protesters marched in Fleming Island Wednesday afternoon, urging Fleming Island Plantation’s community and development district to change the neighborhood’s name.
The protesters want Fleming Island Plantation, a neighborhood in the center of Clay County’s Fleming Island census-designated place, to drop the word “plantation” from its name.
The word plantation is closely tied to slave owners forcibly working slaves on large crop fields. The word is used in several other First Coast neighborhoods, such as Julington Creek Plantation in St. Johns County and Oakleaf Plantation in Duval and Clay Counties.
The City of Plantation in South Florida has also recently received calls to change its name as well.
“It is very offensive, and I can't for the life of me think of one reason why people would vehemently oppose removing a word like plantation,” said Kevin Conner, who has been organizing protests in Clay and Baker counties.
The protesters marched down County Road 220 along a stretch of retail stores with “Black Lives Matter” flags and signs saying “No Plantations” and “Plantations Are So Pre-1860s”. Conner said overall, the group was protesting systemic racism and racial equity.
While they were marching, many cars honked in support, while others shouted racial slurs, chants of white supremacy, and “Trump 2020.”
Conner said that’s become a recurring theme among peaceful rallies he’s been a part of in Clay County and Baker County.
“The opposition is very, very scary,” Conner said. “We have proven repeatedly that we are 100% peaceful.”
In early July, Conner was arrested while protesting on the same road in Clay County. He was charged with resisting arrest without violence. Local attorney John Phillips is representing him.
On Tuesday night, the Fleming Island Plantation Community Development District decided against dropping “plantation” after hearing from residents in a meeting.
“I’ve personally never had a negative connotation with the word,” one community board member said. “I think we have a great community here, and it’s diverse. But my major reason for not wanting the name change is the cost that would be associated with this, not to mention the lengthy legal process.”
Another board member said a majority of the residents she’s spoken to in the neighborhood don’t want a change.
“I’ve never had anyone within the community in the past 18 years that I’ve lived here say that they felt that there was any problem,” the board member said.
On First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross, Fleming Island Plantation resident Brandye Mackey spoke out against the name after attending the community meeting. She said her comments were not well-received.
“You can talk about it but we're not going to do anything about it,” Mackey said of the neighborhood response. “We're not going to listen. This is the way it's going to be.”
According to documents from the University of North Florida Thomas G. Carpenter Library, along with the state Division of Historical Resources Florida Historical Markers Program, George Fleming came to Florida in the late 1700’s. He founded the Hibernia Plantation, which used slave labor. After dying, he left the plantation to his son Lewis Fleming. His wife converted the plantation house into a tourist resort after the Civil War.
Francis Philip Fleming, the son of Lewis, fought for the Confederates during the Civil War
From 1889-1893, he would serve as Florida’s 15th Governor.
Wednesday afternoon’s protest saw many people from outside Clay County join in.
Claudia and Jillian Liner came in to take part in the protest. Both of them live in the Julington Creek Plantation neighborhood.
“Even though you could say the word plantation means nothing to you, ‘what does it mean to them?’ I think it’s the best way to think about it,” Claudia said. “That is 400 years of oppression.”
“I feel like it's an easy fix,” Jillian said. “Just change the name. If it's upsetting people and making people uncomfortable, why wouldn't you just change it?”
Alex Suarez, a college student in neighboring Duval County, said it can be harder for people outside of major metropolitan areas to address racial issues and have their voices heard.
“But I think if we maintain unity and we maintain organization, [and] we make sure people of color and working class voices are heard, I think we can start to make change,” Suarez said.
Shortly after the beginning of the march down County Road 220, Nate Flowers pulled his car up alongside them and asked if he could join in.
“My children are biracial, and I’m in an interracial marriage,” Flowers said. “It starts with me as far as the equality part for my wife and my children. And if I don't get out and started along with these people, who's going to help with a change, you know?”
After roughly two hours of peacefully marching, the group dispersed. Although it never grew to a massive size of protesters, Conner said in some ways, it’s better that way.
“I'd rather have the smaller numbers and ensure the safety of everyone. That's really my number one goal,” Conner said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.