Family member: Decision to rename Hemming Park shouldn’t be up to City Council

Legislation to rename downtown park after James Weldon Johnson introduced to City Council

A member of the Hemming family is speaking out after Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis filed legislation to change the name of Hemming Park.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A member of the Hemming family is speaking out after Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis filed legislation to change the name of Hemming Park.

Last week, Dennis announced he wants to rename the 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.”

The proposal came 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.

On Tuesday night, the legislation was introduced to the Jacksonville City Council.

The park is currently named after Civil War veteran Charles Hemming, who donated the Confederate memorial to the state of Florida in 1898. The Jacksonville City Council changed the name of the park from St. James Park to Hemming Park in 1899 after his donation.

“We have gone down there for the past 90 years with grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles,” said Elwood Hemming, the great-great-great-nephew of Charles Hemming.

Elwood Hemming told News4Jax removing the Confederate statue was one thing, and he was fine with that, but he feels council members don’t know the history behind the park, saying the meaning behind it doesn’t have anything to do with slavery.

“They haven’t done their homework and they’re trying to change the name and they don’t have a clue as to what side has or hasn’t done,” said Elwood Hemming, who lives in Atlanta. “It was given in (commemoration) of the end of the war and the North and the South coming together, freeing slaves is what it was to commemorate.”

Liz Johnson, Elwood Hemming’s sister, said if the park name represents slavery and a painful past to others then she feels the name should be changed.

Dennis said renaming the park would be appropriate after the city removed the Confederate statue from the park.

Elwood Hemming said the park is multicultural. He feels renaming the park shouldn’t be up to council members.

“Let the family have some input. If they don’t know what the history is, ask us. We have all of the original paperwork,” Elwood Hemming said. “If anybody is going to, it should be up to the people of Jacksonville, Florida.”

Dennis sent News4Jax the following statement:

“It is never my goal to silence the voice of the people, but I feel strongly that now is the time to be a leader and drive this very important change. Where was the voice of the community when the statue was erected and named prior? I look forward to a deep discussion with my colleagues and the community. I will be speaking with our council clerk to determine a way to receive public input on this very important topic.”

About the Author:

Corley Peel is a Texas native and Texas Tech graduate who covered big stories in Joplin, Missouri, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Jacksonville, Florida before returning to the Lone Star State. When not reporting, Corley enjoys hot yoga, Tech Football, and finding the best tacos in town.