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Jacksonville pols, civic leaders urge Confederate monument removal

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville this weekend, which included one person killed by a domestic terrorist, protesters in Jacksonville renewed calls to remove Confederate monuments in the city.

Such calls have increased in intensity in recent weeks, with interesting contretemps at Jacksonville City Council meetings between Confederate enthusiasts and progressives who believe those symbols, rather than being celebrations of heritage, are venerations of institutional racism that has yet to abate.

Passions are swirling.

In that context, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry offered a strong statement Monday morning after a job creation event, leaving no room for confusion as to where he stands. And, soon thereafter, Council President Anna Brosche offered a way forward to perhaps remove the controversial Confederate markers.

“Let’s first start with what happened this weekend,” Curry said, regarding the loss of life in Charlottesville at the hands of a white supremacist.

“Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II. One of my grandfathers told stories of literal face to face combat with Nazis. I heard these stories as a child,” Curry said.

“One grandfather told me specifically what he was up against,” Curry added. “He had friends who didn’t come home. I saw the effects it had on him; I condemn it.”

“I condemn and reject the KKK, white supremacy, all of these groups — Nazis, neo-Nazis. It’s not what America is about. Frankly that’s not what humanity should be about,” Curry said.

“I do believe in our creed that we’re all created equally. So it’s sickening,” Curry said.

“Should we have any kind of public assembly here on this issue,” Curry added, “I’m going to work with JSO and make sure it’s safe and we don’t experience injury or loss of life.”

Curry then left an opening for a resolution to this issue from the legislative branch.

“That said,” Curry added, “City Council is the legislative body. We have a new Council President. I’ve yet to have a member of City Council come to me and say this is their priority; however, if a Council President or members of Council deem this to be a priority, on monuments, then I urge them to have a debate in a public forum.”

“If legislation develops,” Curry added, “I’ll see what it is at that time.”

Legislation may move sooner than later, with a strong statement from Council President Brosche.

“Following the leads of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and most recently the Florida Senate who removed Confederate items from public places in Tallahassee, and in response to the horrific and unacceptable incidents that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, I am asking that the City of Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department and the Planning Department (Community Planning Division, Historic Preservation Section) conduct an inventory of all Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers on public property,” Brosche wrote Monday.

“In order to develop an appropriate plan of action to relocate Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers, it is important to know the full landscape of such a task. Upon completion of the inventory, I intend to propose legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions where they can be respectfully preserved and historically contextualized. It is important to never forget the history of our great city; and, these monuments, memorials, and markers represent a time in our history that caused pain to so many,” Brosche added.

Brosche’s position was endorsed strongly Monday afternoon by Ed Burr, head of the Jacksonville Civic Council.

“The Jacksonville Civic Council opposes racism and discrimination in every form and seeks to advance a culture of fairness and respect for all. We commend Mayor Lenny Curry and City Council President Brosche for taking the lead to thoughtfully consider removal of Confederate monuments from local public property, particularly in light of the tragic events of last weekend. The Civic Council will evaluate and weigh in on any legislation introduced
on the matter. Our vision of Jacksonville holds no room for hate.”

In what seems like a retrospective contrast, City Council members were reluctant to offer opinions Monday morning at City Hall.

“No comment,” said Councilman Sam Newby. Councilmen Doyle Carter and Scott Wilson also gave essential no comment statements.

Others were more voluble, if no less conflicted.

“I’m willing to listen to both sides,” Council VP Aaron Bowman said. “What happened last weekend in Charlottesville was despicable.”

Regarding Jacksonville’s Confederate momuments, Bowman suggested “some could be taken down, while others stay up.”

Jacksonville’s most high-profile Confederate monument in Hemming Park, Bowman said, could fall in either category.

“I’m willing to listen,” Bowman said, “and do what’s right for the community.”

Councilman Greg Anderson described himself as “very disappointed” with what went down in Charlottesville, a situation that exemplifies the perils “when groups decide to stop talking.”

On Jacksonville’s historical monuments, meanwhile, Anderson has yet to take a position.

Councilman Jim Love noted that he’s getting a lot more “anti-monument emails” in recent days, but he hasn’t “made up his mind” on the matter.

Love described the “death in Charlottesville” as “terrible,” and noted the “vitriol” in recent public comment periods as concerning.

“I understand both sides,” Love said. “It’s a tough call. You want to make the people happy.”

The Hemming statue, said Love, “has been out there 100 years. If we take another two or three years to figure it out, it won’t hurt.”

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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