JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville City Council member has introduced legislation that aims to change the name of Hemming Park.
Councilmember Garrett Dennis wants to rename the downtown Jacksonville park after James Weldon Johnson, a Jacksonville black civil rights activist, educator and composer who wrote “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” – often called “The Black National Anthem.”
Dennis made the proposal Wednesday, on Johnson’s birthday.
“If you think about it, James Weldon Johnson is the most famous person that was ever born and raised here in Jacksonville. No matter where you go, everyone knows James Weldon Johnson,” Dennis said. “He’s somebody that we can embrace and be proud of he’s been vetted for all these years and he’s not someone years from now that we would be ashamed of having a park or a school or a city block named after him.”
The call for renaming the park comes a week after a Confederate monument was removed from Hemming Park, the downtown city plaza framed on two sides by City Hall and the Federal Courthouse.
The park is currently named after Civil War veteran Charles Hemming, who donated the Confederate memorial to the state of Florida in 1898. City Council changed the name of the park from St. James Park to Hemming Park after his donation in 1899. Days after the removal of Confederate statute in Jacksonville’s Hemming Park, a woman came forward and shared that her great-great-grandfather was a slave owned by Charles Hemming’s family.
Dennis, who joined The Morning Show on Friday to talk about the proposal, feels changing the name would represent progress, and renaming the park to James Weldon Johnson would bring even more light to Jacksonville.
“It’s all about turning a new chapter in our city and this is a way to do it. To lift up and memorialize a legend here in our city,” he said.
Dennis said he plans to introduce the legislation at Tuesday’s council meeting and he hopes the council will vote on renaming the park in August.
News4Jax asked the Hemming family for comment. They said they plan to release a statement soon.