Confederate statue removed from park overnight; others in Jacksonville also coming down

Mayor: ‘We’ve got to find a way to come together’

VIDEO: Crews were seen overnight using a crane to remove a Confederate monument in Jacksonville’s Hemming Park, the downtown city plaza framed on two sides by City Hall and the Federal Courthouse.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville’s inventory for Confederate memorials lists three monuments and eight markers on city property related to the Civil War.

As of Tuesday morning, there was one less, and Mayor Lenny Curry said the others are coming down, too.

Crews were seen overnight using a crane to remove a Confederate monument in Jacksonville’s Hemming Park, the downtown city plaza framed on two sides by City Hall and the Federal Courthouse. The statue and nameplate were hauled off well before daylight, leaving an empty pedestal.

The same morning, the Visit Jacksonville website, which has a description of Hemming Park, was updated to reflect the monument was removed from the park “in June 2020.”

According to the city, there were three Confederate monuments and eight markers in Duval County. Curry said work orders have been put in to remove the remaining two monuments and he was having conversations with the Cultural Council about where the monuments should be placed.

Tap circles on map to see, read about documented monuments, markers in Jacksonville

VIEW: Civil War-related monuments and markers on city property

The change was unannounced and came ahead of a peaceful protest led by Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette and rapper Lil Duval that started outside City Hall at 10 a.m. and marched to the Duval County Courthouse. The mayor joined the march, and before it began he spoke to the crowd.

“I hear you,” Curry said. “Yesterday, there was a Confederate monument in the park. Today, it’s gone, and the others in this city will be removed as well.”

He said he’s been thinking about monument removal for “some time” but especially over the last few days.

“I evolved on the importance of the issue. I’ve heard people. I’ve heard people absolutely. If our opinions and our policies don’t evolve, then we’re not growing and we are stagnant, so I evolved,” Curry said. “We’ve got to find a way to come together. We’re not going to agree on everything -- that’s just not human history, human nature. We’ve got to find common ground."

Overnight, a statue of a Confederate soldier statue that overlooked Hemming Park where over a century was hoisted off its pedestal and taken away in a trailer. (WJXT)

Reaction to removal

Many in the African American community and their allies fighting for social justice changes applauded the removal of the statue, saying it should have come down long ago.

“It was great to see, actually, that come down and actually be able to be a part of this with Jacksonville with that statue coming down," N.V. Pharaoh said. “As a man of color, as an African-American citizen -- (it’s) a start right there, and I’m happy to be a part of the change here in Jacksonville.”

RELATED: Street debate over Confederate monument removal ends with tears, hug

Ben Frazier with the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville led a celebration Tuesday morning in Hemming Park after the statue’s removal. He issued a statement late Monday night:

“It’s not about the brick, the marble, the metal or the stone; this has never been a fight about southern heritage. It’s really about Confederate heritage and there is a definitive difference between the two.

“Confederate heritage represents an ugly story of racial hatred, discrimination, social injustice, lynchings and slavery.

“For the city to move forward into the light of a brand new day it must divorce itself from a history of inequality and a legacy of racial injustice."

After the mayor’s statements on Tuesday, Frazier called his decision to remove the monument “a decisive and bold step in the right direction."

He said Curry should now engage in critical follow-through actions, including renaming streets, schools, parks and bridges throughout the city.

Anna Lopez Brosche, former president of the City Council, called for an inventory of all monuments on city-owned property in 2017, with the intention of asking for them to be removed, although they never were.

She released a statement Tuesday:

“I appreciate Mayor Lenny Curry’s executive action to remove the Confederate monument from Hemming Park, and I am grateful for this day in Jacksonville. It is my hope that we may begin the process of healing and reconciliation that respects every single individual and sets a path for the realization of racial equity, including the promises made during consolidation.”

But some questioned why the city felt it needed to take down the monument, particularly in the middle of the night.

“There is nothing in that monument that promotes slavery," said Seber Newsome, a vocal opponent to the removal of Confederate memorials and a member of Save our Heritage Florida. "It talks to the soldier of Florida. American veterans. Confederate veterans. Our veterans. My ancestors did not own one slave.”

Mayor: ‘We’ve got to find a way to come together’

Controversial history

Some argue Confederate monuments represent part of American history, but others say images of the Confederacy are reminders of slavery and oppression for many Americans. Calls for their removal nationwide have been growing for years and found a renewed fervor with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Two weeks after the killing propelled the treatment of African-Americans to the top of the national conversation, a long-fought battle to have the monument removed ended.

The Hemming Park monument, topped by a Confederate infantryman, was built in 1898 and was one of the few landmarks to survive the fire that destroyed most of downtown Jacksonville in 1901.

Records show the statue is a granite monument with a bronze Confederate soldier depicted facing south and standing at ease with his hand resting on his musket. It once stood as a memorial to soldiers and sailors from Florida who served during the Civil War, but its existence has a contentious history.

The City Council had multiple discussions about removing the statue, but none had ever succeeded.

In 2018, activists set out on a three-day, 40-mile walk from Jacksonville to St. Augustine to draw attention to a call for the removal of Confederate monuments. The “March for Change” was organized by Take 'Em Down Jax, which called the monuments symbols of hate. Members said they wanted the statues removed and relocated.

Earlier in the fall of 2017, there were marches and growing public calls for the removal of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments and markers in the wake of a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent as demonstrators defended a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Brosche called for the inventory, and the Parks and Recreation Department found there were three Civil War-related monuments and eight historic markers on city property.

Brosche said at the time she was asking the general counsel about laws and processes surrounding the monuments.

Critics questioned how the memorials would be removed and put in places such as museums or universities. News4Jax was told it may be impossible to do without ruining the foundations.

Brosche said she also looked at other options, like perhaps putting up new monuments that fill in the gaps of Jacksonville’s history, and she received a lot of pushback -- even threats.

“Some of them crossed the line a little bit, in terms of wishing me bodily harm, things like that,” Brosche said at the time. “But on the whole, most people are appropriately expressing their passion about this.”

Some 500 letters and emails later, Brosche saw a lot of passion on all sides.

Brosche left office less than a year later and the issue of what to do with the statues and memorials was never resolved.

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Confederate Soldiers Memorial, a 62-foot granite shaft erected in Hemming Park in 1898 is topped by a Confederate soldier at rest. A bronze plaque at the base honors Gens. J.J. Dickinson, Kirby Smith, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. It was taken down June 9, 2020.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.