City Council leaders’ absence from MLK Day parade fueling rift between Duval GOP, organizers

Council members & organizers say it was miscommunication. Duval GOP says it was political.

A day after Jacksonville’s parade for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a rift between local Republicans and parade organizers.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after Jacksonville’s parade for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a rift between local Republicans and parade organizers.

The problem centers on two men: City Council President Sam Newby and City Council Vice President Terrance Freeman. Both are Republicans and both thought they should be near the front of the parade since it’s the first time in Jacksonville history that two Black city councilmen held the top spots.

Instead of marching, the two did not participate.

Newby and Freeman both told News4JAX they thought it would only be natural they would be upfront in the parade to showcase that achievement.

Freeman explained to News4JAX what happened before the parade.

“Councilman Newby and I planned on attending and walked over to the parade, and upon getting there we were informed that there was a change in the protocol,” he explained.

The local Republican party believes it has all to do with the council members’ party affiliation. Freeman and Newby said it was a miscommunication -- as did parade organizers.

“So as a result of the miscommunication, we decided it would be best for us to not participate this year,” Freeman added.

“I was surprised and I considered it disrespectful,” Newby told News4JAX by phone.

The councilmembers would not comment on whether it had to do with their party affiliation. But I questioned it to Freeman.

“That is the underlying current. That is what I keep hearing from others,” Freeman told me. “I’m not a mind reader. As I shared with the parade director, the optics are bad and I could see how one would draw that conclusion.”

I also reached out to Gary Thomas, the parade organizer. He said he was not aware of what happened, and said he believed it was a misunderstanding. He said he would be contacting both Newby and Freeman.

Both councilmen said they did talk to Thomas on Tuesday and hope something like this won’t happen in the future.

A statement from a spokesperson for the Republican Party of Duval County reads:

“On a day when we should celebrate the extraordinary achievements made by Dr. King, it is disappointing to hear that divisive politics worked its way to the annual MLK parade. This year was a historic opportunity to celebrate our first dual African-American Council Presidency and Vice Presidency. For parade officials to move President Newby and Vice President Freeman to the back of the parade - solely based on their political affiliation as Republicans - is a slap in the face to the legacy of Dr. King and the City of Jacksonville. These actions are inexcusable, the Council Members are owed an apology and this must never happen again!”

The Duval County Democratic Party had no comment.

I also reached out to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office for a comment. On Tuesday night, they told me the mayor was not invited by parade organizers to participate.

On Tuesday night, an email from Thomas shared a lengthy statement that he said was sent by the organizers to all members of city council. It reads in part: “Our apologies to anyone who may have felt slighted or disrespected during the parade yesterday. We have absolutely nothing to gain by making decisions based on ethnicity, gender, religion, or political affiliations. The MLK Holiday Parade is for the unbridled enjoyment of all of Jacksonville.”

Here is the full statement:

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.