Passionate opinions clash over city's Confederate monuments

Save Our Southern Heritage calls for public vote on monuments

By Erik Avanier - Reporter, Chris Parenteau - Reporter, Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Passionate speakers voiced differing opinions about what to do with Confederate monuments on city property at a crowded Jacksonville City Council meeting Tuesday evening. 

Hours before the meeting started, hundreds of people lined up to put their names on a list to publicly speak about the status of Jacksonville's Confederate monuments. 

The national headline became a local one last week when City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche requested an inventory of such monuments, so she could possibly file legislation to have them removed.

While the subject wasn't on the meeting agenda, 123 people signed up to tell City Council members what they think should be done.

"I am for the removal of the monuments. And I will admit, like many people, that I didn't think a thing about it until I learned that most of these monuments went up during the period of Jim Crow and were basically a way of frightening people," Lara Ragunas said before the meeting started. 

People who want the monuments removed said they should be placed in a museum.

"I support removing the Confederate statues as a Marine Corps veteran," Anita Walker said as public comment got underway. "I believe they should be paid tribute to a museum, not on the streets on America."

But the opposing side argued against that proposal. 

"If they're in a museum, the very limited number of the population will see them unless something is broadcasted about them," Mark McQueen told News4Jax. "But every time someone drives by Hemming Park, they see that and can bring a remembrance to them about the things that did happen.”

Passion was apparent on both sides of the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting, which lasted several hours. While some people spoke softly, others went off on the City Council.

"You are the leaders of Jacksonville, Florida, and we expect a change. And if you don't change, the same thing that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, will happen in Jacksonville, Florida," said Rosemary McCoy, who supports removal of the monuments. 

Cindy Newsome asked City Council members to keep Confederate statues in place, and not remove them like other cities have done. 

"Jacksonville should be a leader and not a follower. All of our monuments should stay right where they are, and new monuments to notable black citizens should be erected," Newsome said. "Our diversity, our achievements should be celebrated, not moved or hidden in shame."

William Miller was also in favor of the city keeping its Confederate statues.

"There are those who say it is offensive and a constant reminder of a dark and troubled time. But the fact is that no nation in existence has a history of innocence," Miller said.

Harrison Goodall voiced support for the statues being taken down, saying there are other ways to celebrate Southern heritage. 

"I'm very proud to be from the South. I've lived across the world, and I cling to my Southern identity. Heritage and hate aren't mutually exclusive terms," he said. "There are ways for us to cling to our Southern history and move forward in way that we can celebrate inclusive history. And I guarantee the history of the Confederacy will not disappear with these monuments because we have books."

But another Jacksonville resident disagreed, saying, "The monuments mean a lot to me because that is my heritage. My grandfathers fought in those wars. Whether it was right or it was wrong, they still fought in that war because they had to."

By the end of the meeting, City Council members heard from 96 people who signed up to speak. No action was taken by the City Council.

Save Our Southern Heritage says 77% support leaving statues in place

The group Save Our Southern Heritage is calling for a public referendum in Jacksonville on whether Confederate monuments should be removed from public property.

The monuments in question include one that City Council members see every day in the middle of Hemming Park: a memorial to military members from Florida during the Civil War.

Another monument in question is a large memorial to the Women of the Confederacy at Confederate Park. On the top of the statue is a young woman holding a half-furled Confederate flag.

It's unclear whether markers at Old City Cemetery and Camp Capt. Mooney Cemetery honoring Confederate veterans would be included in Brosche's effort.

The Hemming Park monument served as a backdrop Tuesday for a news conference by the Save Our Southern Heritage group. Seber Newsome III said his group commissioned a survey after the clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the results of that survey show 77 percent of Jacksonville residents don’t want the monuments removed. 

"Let the people vote," Newsome said. "Isn't that what America is about? Let the people vote. That's all we are asking."

The study the group commissioned surveyed 425 Jacksonville residents. Sixty-one percent of the survey respondents were female and 39 percent were male. Of those polled, 89 percent were over the age of 50. 

Newsome said pressure will be brought to bear on the City Council and Mayor Lenny Curry to put the question in the hands of voters.

"They can wash their hands of the situation and say, 'Well, that's the will of the residents of Jacksonville. That's what they want. We're here to serve them. Let's do what they want.' If the people vote to remove the monuments, so be it. Move them," Newsome said. "If they vote to keep them, then keep them there."

Newsome said if the City Council and mayor go against the wishes of the people, "Their political future is going to be in trouble.”

Newsome said the monuments are a memorial to the Confederate soldiers who fell in battle, and are not about slavery. The group is proposing an ordinance that would not only protect the monuments, but have the city erect a new one, given that the one at Hemming Park is 119 years old. 

"I think Miss Brosche knows that she might have made a mistake, and I think the compromise, if there is one, is to put up more monuments in here," Newsome said.

A young black man walking by the news conference Tuesday took issue with the Confederate flags the group was waving, cursing at the group and calling them racists.

Officers quickly came over to make sure the exchange between the man and the group, which had gathered for the news conference, did not become physical.

An opposing group, the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, wrote an open letter to Curry, citing the group's concern that "radical white racist groups may be planning to disrupt tonight's City Council meeting and physically threaten those who support the removal of Confederate monuments from public property."

The group asked Curry to "not only join with the president of the City Council in acting to change some names and remove some Confederate monuments but that you instead lead the way."

News4Jax requested a list of all the Confederate monuments and markers on public property, but was told that list is not yet available.

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