JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Protesters Saturday said Jacksonville is a tale of two cities -- and only one of those tales is being told during the city’s bicentennial celebration.
Groups like The Black Commission and Northside Coalition gathered on the steps of City Hall on Saturday as a party was being set up across the street at James Weldon Johnson Park.
Many of the day’s bicentennial events were being celebrated Saturday at the park named for one of the city’s most famous civil rights activists. But protesters say the celebration only tells half of the story.
“It’s ignoring how they ran interstates and expressways through our communities. It’s ignoring the 200 years of Jim Crow. It’s ignoring all these political things that have dilapidated our community,” said Diallo-Sekou, president of The Black Commission. “I believe that this particular bicentennial is one-sided. It’s definitely white washed.”
Diallo-Sekou and other protesters say the city is neglecting the perspective of Jacksonville’s history toward African Americans over the last 200 years.
“Like any other things, when you’re responsible for something, it’s up to you to take responsibility for it,” Diallo-Sekou said. “Once you take responsibility for your actions and your institution that you represent’s past actions, transgression actions against a particular community, you need to apologize, and then from there, we move on.”
In a separate protest, “Take ‘em Down Jax” held a rally at City Hall on Saturday, calling on Mayor Lenny Curry to honor a promise he made two years ago to remove Confederate monuments in the city, including a pedestal that remains in James Weldon Johnson Park.
The protesters said they don’t feel comfortable celebrating 200 years of Jacksonville’s history while the pedestal remains in the park.
The protesters held signs, one of them saying “200 years of racism in Jax, take them all down.”
“These statues represent the exploitation and oppression of the majority of the people -- Black or white -- in the South,” one protester with Take ‘Em Down Jax said. “We see issues going on right now that are reflected in these statues. The housing crisis is one, the lack of police accountability is another, and the absence of health care is another. We can go down a long list.”
Joseph Maceo George with Take ‘Em Down Jax was almost brought to tears thinking about what the monuments stand for.
“We’re passionate about these monuments because these monuments represent racism. They were put here to intimidate us, and we shouldn’t be reminded of what our ancestors went through many years ago,” George said. “They couldn’t fight for themselves, so we’re going to fight for them.”
Not everyone agreed with the protesters. Some said this wasn’t the time to protest.
One woman said she watched briefly – then moved on.
“To me, it was inappropriate because this is a celebration as a city as a whole and white supremacy is an issue that’s not going to go away,” Joanne Avant said. “You may put a dent in it, but it’s here to stay so there’s no need to do that today.”
But the protesters said they’ll keep going until the statues come down.
Kitty Carson was one of many people Saturday who said there’s more to be done before the city should celebrate.
“It’s 200 years of lies,” Carson said. “They have been very complacent. They have acted as if nothing is wrong. It’s delusional in how they have treated things. Delusion and minimizing what we’re speaking about.”
Some people celebrating the bicentennial said there’s room to acknowledge the monuments needing to come down and the city’s 200-year mark.
“I think during this celebration of 200 years we should be talking about them coming down,” Yvette Ewing said. “The monument hasn’t done it, but what the monument stands for is still a kick in the head to everybody. Can we not do this anymore? This is why it’s taken 200 years for it to come down, nobody wants to say anything about it so yeah.”
The City Council is expected to discuss the Confederate monuments during a meeting Tuesday.
Sekou said moving forward, discussions about creating a Reparation Task Force will become a priority.
The Black Commission is hosting a town hall meeting Monday night where that will be on the agenda.
The town hall is set to be at The Legends Center on Soutel Drive from 6 to 8:30 p.m.