JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The descendants of the man who donated a Confederate statue to a downtown park that later took on his name told News4Jax they are looking into taking legal action to attempt to block changing the name of Hemming Park.
Jacksonville City Council voted 16-2 on Tuesday night to rename the park in front of City Hall after James Weldon Johnson, a native of the city who was an educator, author and civil rights activist who became famous for penning “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
On Wednesday, Elwood Hemming said they were working with some attorneys, “to see what kind of stop we can put onto this.”
“It’s not the fact that they changed the name, it’s who they changed it to and the fact that they did not keep the living relatives informed of what was going on,” Hemming said. “I’ve never owned a slave had absolutely nothing to do with slavery and now they’re trying to put it all together with the whole Confederate stuff and basically disregard any of the past and wipe it out.”
Also Wednesday, Momma Blue and others gathered at the park to proudly sing Johnson’s song that became known as the Black national anthem.
In the background, Ben Frazier of Northside Coalition walked around the park remembering coming to the park with his mother when he was 10 while the park was still segregated. He said it is still one of his happiest memories as a child.
“I remember standing right in front of that building, which is where Morrison’s Cafeteria used to be,” Frazier said. “Black folks could work there but they couldn’t sit down and eat there. I remember the Klan coming by during the demonstrations and seeing them in there in their regalia and being afraid and telling my mama I was afraid and she said, ’Don’t worry. They ain’t gonna bother nobody.‘”
Frazier said there were unspoken rules to be in the park back then.
“(One) side of the park was the colored people’s side ... and to the east was the white people’s side. In the confines of this park, there were white and colored water fountains, white and colored restrooms,” Frazier said.
The name change didn’t just happen. Frazier said it was a result of the Take Them Down Jax movement to get rid of Confederate monuments, which we saw play out when the Confederate soldier that had overlooked the park since 1898 came down in June.
After all of the fights, after all of the protests, was Frazier surprised to see the changes?
“I’m not just surprised that it happened. The question is: why didn’t happen sooner?”