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Jax Daily Record Monday, Nov. 8, 202107:40 PM EST

Civic Council ‘disappointed’ in city lawmakers as Confederate statue vote looms

Leaders for the business organization want the City Council to delay the vote on funding removal of the monument.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Jacksonville Civic Council is calling on city lawmakers and Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration to withdraw or postpone the vote on a bill that would fund the removal of The Tribute to the Women of the Confederacy monument in Springfield Park. 

The group of about 80 Northeast Florida business CEOs and executives sent a letter Nov. 8 to Curry, City Council President Sam Newby and the other 17 Council members. 

It expressed “disappointment in the City Council’s failure to pass” Ordinance 2021-0752, which finances the statue’s removal, in three committee votes Nov. 1 and 2.

Newby filed the bill Oct. 12 at Curry’s request to appropriate $1.3 million to disassemble, store and relocate the statue commissioned and dedicated by area Confederate veterans groups in 1915.

The full City Council is scheduled to vote Nov. 9 on the statue removal bill, which has sparked weeks of public debate at City Hall. 

City Council meets at 5 p.m. at City Hall at 117 W. Duval St. 

Civic Council President and CEO Jeanne Miller and Chairman John Delaney, a former mayor signed the letter, which calls for city leaders to finalize a plan to address all Confederate and historical markers monuments by March 2022.

“The issue of Confederate monuments on public property is not a new one to this community or our nation,” the letter says. 

“Communities around the nation (and world) have had the courage to address this issue head on by developing plans that acknowledge all historic events – those recognized by monuments and those often overlooked in history books,” it says.

“The City of Jacksonville deserves a comprehensive review and action plan to address all historic markers instead of a one-by-one approach.”

The Civic Council’s support to remove the statue, also called the Women of the Southland monument, comes after several weeks of public discourse.

Protests at City Hall and public comments during Council meetings for and against its removal have intensified since Curry and Newby filed the bill.

Northside Coalition opposition

The Northside Coalition of Jacksonville Inc., which calls for the statue to be taken down, recently asked for the business community to enter the debate.

President and founder Ben Frazier said Nov. 8 the activist group supports the Civic Council’s request to postpone the vote. He said it would allow time to organize a public-private partnership with the business community to raise private money to remove the statue. 

In an email Nov. 8, he called City Council member positions on the issue during committee votes “woefully inadequate.” 

“The Jacksonville City Council’s present attitude regarding the confederate monument will not result in resolution of this controversy,” he said. 

Frazier said he spoke with Civic Council leaders before it released the letter.

JAX Chamber: Postpone vote

In an email Nov. 8, JAX Chamber Chief Public Affairs Officer Matt Galnor said the Northeast Florida business and economic development organization has not taken a formal position on the monument’s future. 

He provided a statement from Chamber Chair Henry Brown:

“The Chamber has been clear and consistent on its position that discrimination and symbols of discrimination have no place in our community. However, we understand that spending $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars to remove and preserve a monument that doesn’t reflect our community values is not ideal,” it said.

The Tribute to the Women of the Confederacy monument in Springfield Park was dedicated in 1915. (WJCT)

“The City Council should postpone tomorrow’s vote and the city should work with various partners on a solution to remove this monument while directing public dollars to after-school programs, job training or other initiatives that would address inequities in our community.”

In its letter, the Civic Council said the postponement or withdrawal is, “unfortunately,” the best option and allows time for city elected leaders to develop a process on “all confederate-related legacies in the form of statues, street names, building names, monuments, memorials or emblems and symbols located on public land.”

If Council moves to withdraw the bill, Curry or another Council member would have to refile the bill and start the process over. If the bill is deferred, the Council could take it up again as soon as its next full meeting.

If the bill is voted down, Council rules will not allow the legislation to be refiled for at least one year.

Council positions

Because the bill amends the approved 2021-22 city budget, it will require a 12-vote supermajority of City Council members to pass.

In the three committee votes, four Council members voted in favor of funding the removal in committee: Joyce Morgan; Matt Carlucci; Reggie Gaffney; and Ju’Coby Pittman. 

The 10 voting against funding the removal were Ron Salem; Danny Becton; Michael Boylan; Terrance Freeman; Aaron Bowman; Randy White; Kevin Carrico; Al Ferraro; LeAnna Cumber; and Randy DeFoor.

Brenda Priestly Jackson was absent for the Neighborhoods committee vote. Newby, Rory Diamond, Garrett Dennis do not serve on the committees that heard the bill and have not voted on it.

“There are so many elements of concern. I think the biggest thing to me is there was no discussion at all ... because we have listened to our community talk about this for weeks. But yet when we get to vote on it, there is no discussion.” Morgan told Daily Record news partner WJXT TV-4 after the committee votes Nov. 1

Bowman told the news station Nov. 2 that he does not see the monument as a tribute to slavery. 

“Look, the Civil War was absolutely horrible. The fact that we had slavery; the fact that we had to fight over slavery. It (was) a terrible time in our history. Any monument out there that represents support of that, it absolutely has no place anywhere, especially on public property,” Bowman said.

“This monument is completely different. It shows the war and the casualty of war to the entire community and the entire family. This is not about the Civil War at all, but it’s how we try to resolve something without conflict.”

Curry’s pledge

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said Nov. 8 that the Curry administration does not support withdrawing the bill because “it walks away from an issue that needs to be resolved one way or another.”

During Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, Curry committed to remove all the city’s Confederate monuments. 

Hughes said the mayor wants to move “as expeditiously as possible” on the statue in Springfield Park.

He said a delay or deferral would be disappointing.

“I’d rather it not do either of those and that we agree as a community that public space is not the place where things that are divisive or expressing racial hatred are located,” Hughes said.

Hughes said the monument’s monetary value as city property restricts what Curry’s can do unilaterally, which is why the bill was filed.

He told a City Council committee Nov. 1 that the Jacksonville Cultural Council appraised the statue in 2019 at $808,000 and it is insured by the city.

A historical perspective

Jacksonville Historical Society Executive Director Alan Bliss said contemporary documents in the organization’s archives don’t contain a “smoking gun” linking the statue’s intent to reverence for the cause of the confederacy or the institution of slavery.

“On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that white supremacy and racial segregation didn’t play a role,” Bliss said. 

He said the 1915 statue was dedicated when there was legally enforced racial segregation in the Southern U.S.

“At the time, 50 years after the end of the Civil War, there was an upsurge of sentimentality and nostalgia and I would say an impulse to honor and celebrate elders in the community,” Bliss said. 

“And the veterans of the Civil War were regarded as community members worthy of being celebrated.” 

Bliss said that on the day of the statue’s dedication ceremony Oct. 26, 1915, in what was previously called Confederate Park, the monument was draped with Confederate flags.

“The iconography of this were explicitly associated with the Confederacy,” he said. 

Bliss said the Jacksonville Historical Society does not have a copy of the original dedication book from the 1915 ceremony but “would like very much to find one.”

According to Bliss, the idea for the statue was conceived in 1900 by the Florida Division of the United Confederate Veterans, which voted in 1909 to pursue its development. 

It also was supported by the Florida Chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. 

The statue’s final $25,000 completion cost was partially funded with $13,000 from the Florida Legislature. Organizers raised the rest.

The historical society does not have an official position on whether the statue should be removed and relocated, Bliss said. 

But the organization is following the process with “considerable interest.”

According to Bliss, there are differences between the history of the Woman of the Southland monument and Confederate soldier statue the city removed in June 2020 from then-Hemming Park, now James Weldon Johnson Park. 

Bliss said there were Confederate and Union veterans present when the Hemming statue was dedicated in 1898, and there was a “reunification subtext” to the ceremony.

Bliss said there were federal U.S. troops present in Jacksonville during the 1898 ceremony as part of a troop mobilization during the Spanish-American War. 

As for the themes during the 1915 Women of the Southland ceremony, Bliss said, “we’re not aware of any such reconciliation messaging at the dedication.”

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