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Councilman wants to pump the brakes on renaming Jacksonville’s buildings, parks

Bill is facing opposition, questions about its motive

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Just days after the Jacksonville City Council voted to rename Hemming Park to James Weldon Johnson Park and also to rename Confederate Park to Springfield Park, a City Council member wants to slow down the process of future renaming projects.

City Councilman Rory Diamond introduced legislation that would institute a two-year moratorium on future renaming, and now that bill is facing opposition and questions about the legislation’s motive.

A statue honoring Confederate soldiers that was donated by the Hemming family, who owned Florida slaves, was one of Jacksonville’s most visible memorials. Following the George Floyd protests, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry ordered that the Hemming Park statue come down and the park be renamed. City Council members decided on naming it for James Weldon Johnson, the local African American civil rights activist who composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

An emergency bill was introduced, calling for the renaming of five more parks at the time. Even though that bill was withdrawn, Diamond wants to slow down the renaming process.

“The idea is to get a process in place to rename parks, buildings, streets in Jacksonville so that the public has a lot of input, and so that everyone is at the table, and so we don’t need to have any rushed decisions like we had a couple weeks ago where a city councilman pushed an emergency bill to rename five parks overnight,” Diamond said.

Diamond is proposing a two-year moratorium on renaming Jacksonville parks, schools and public facilities, arguing the city should focus on the pandemic and rebuilding the local economy. Diamond also wants community and historical input.

″I think there needs to be an official panel with people with the historical understanding of Jacksonville — every race, every creed, every party, everybody at the table — so we can say, ‘Yeah, these are the people in our community that we want to lift up and name something for, and these are the ones that we don’t want to do,‘” Diamond said.

But the bill is being met with opposition from City Councilman Garrett Dennis, who points to other renaming projects that passed with only a council vote.

“What I pointed out in my emergency legislation — the Tilly Fowler park, the Ed Austin park, we have the Jake Godbold annex building, we have the Ed Austin building, we have the Jim King boat ramp — and no one ever questioned the process of renaming or naming those public spaces,” Dennis said.

Dennis said he wants to fully understand Diamond’s motive before the city agrees to pump the brakes on renaming projects for the next two years.

“Let’s call it what it is. We renamed it for the most famous, the most accomplished native son of Jacksonville who happens to be an African American, and after 50 years, we want to look at and change the process? So I just want to get down to the root of all of his bill,” Dennis said.

When asked why he’s specifically calling for a two-year moratorium, Diamond said the moratorium would expire when a new process is put into place. The issue is expected to be discussed during the next City Council meeting.


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