JACKSONVILLE — When a group supporting Confederate monuments flew a banner Sunday over TIAA Bank Field before the Jaguars game, it drove home that a year after City Council pledged to make a decision on the future of a Confederate monument in Springfield Park, none of the long-promised meetings in a “community conversation” has happened.
Faced with Mayor Lenny Curry’s call for removing Confederate monuments from city parks, Jacksonville City Council President Sam Newby and Vice President Terrance Freeman both voted in January 2022 for a plan to conduct a series of meetings around Jacksonville about whether such monuments should remain on city property.
Newby took no action to schedule any of those “community conversation” meetings during his term as president that ended in June, even though the council’s written goal in its strategic plan was to have a decision by July.
Newby then handed off the task to Freeman, who took over as council president on July 1. Freeman has convened no meetings about Confederate monuments.
Freeman did not respond to Times-Union questions left with his City Council office about whether he will have the community conversations during his one-year tenure as council president that ends on June 30.
Wells Todd, a leader of the Take ‘Em Down Jax group, said City Council is using the prospect of staging public meetings as a way to avoid a vote on the monuments while not actually having the meetings.
“A lot of them are afraid, I believe, to take a stand to remove these statues,” he said.
With no action by City Council on the “Tribute to the Women of the Southern Confederacy” monument in Springfield Park, it will likely be an issue for some candidates in the spring election for mayor and City Council, said Michael Binder, a University of North Florida political science professor.
He said the prospect of having a community conversation has allowed City Council to repeatedly delay a decision, which ends up being a win for supporters of keeping the monuments where they stand.
Plane incident at TIAA Bank Field runs counter to plan to let issue die quietly
He said the plane that flew over the stadium Sunday runs counter to the strategy the pro-monument supporters have been using to wait for the issue to eventually “fall off the map.”
“The stunt they pulled only makes it harder for City Council members to ignore the issue and let it go,” he said.
Curry reacted Sunday in a tweet that “there is no place for hate of any kind in our city” and he reaffirmed his support for removing Confederate monuments from city-owned land.
Freeman did not have any public response to the plane flying the Confederate flag. In contrast, he condemned an electronic antisemitic message that appeared at TIAA Bank Field at the end of the Georgia-Florida game on Oct. 29.
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“Hate has no place in our city,” Freeman tweeted about the antisemitic message. “Jacksonville stands with our Jewish neighbors and against disgusting antisemitic rhetoric.”
Todd said he’s written several emails in the past month to City Council members and said he’s gotten no response from them, including from Freeman.
Take ‘Em Down Jax and the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville still come regularly to City Council meetings to say the monuments in Jacksonville were set up to send a message of white supremacy to Black residents during the Jim Crow segregation era.
Supporters of the monuments say they should stay and be put in some broader historical context as past city studies have recommended. They’ve told City Council members they’ll pay a political price in the spring 2023 election if they support removing the monument out of Springfield Park.
A group called Save Southern Heritage — Florida hired a plane to tow a sign that carried the Confederate flag and a “Put Monuments Back” message over TIAA Bank Field before the Jaguars played the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
The group said it used the flight to protest the removal of Confederate tributes in Jacksonville and Baltimore. The group said those wanting to remove monuments are “cancel culture tyrants.”
City Council said in November 2021 a decision on monuments would be made by summer
City Council members agreed in a November 2021 workshop on its annual strategic plan that they would decide by summer 2022 on the monuments by considering options ranging from taking them down to leaving them as they are.
The workshop came after City Council voted 12-6 to withdraw legislation filed by Curry that would have authorized using up to $1.3 million for moving the Confederate monument from Springfield Park where it’s stood since 1915.
“We take control of the monument issue, establish a plan, and put this all behind us,” City Council member Aaron Bowman said at the workshop.
In January, City Council approved legislation that set out its strategic plan for one-year, three-year and five-year goals. The one-year goals included having a “community conversation to develop a roadmap and funding plan to be completed by July 2022″ for whether to remove, relocate, leave in place, or rename “Confederate monuments on city property.”
Newby and Freeman both voted for the strategic plan.
When City Council member Matt Carlucci filed legislation to put $500,000 into the city’s budget for removing the monument, council voted 13-6 against it in July. Newby and Freeman both were opposed. Newby said City Council already had a plan for community conversations that would be followed by a City Council vote.
“Evidently, we have colleagues who don’t understand that we have a plan in place,” he said after Carlucci said other council members acted with “eerie silence” when they voted down his bill without any discussion.
After Curry proposed $500,000 in his 2022-23 budget for moving the Confederate monument, City Council kept the money in the budget but added a provision that the money would go toward “Confederate Monument removal, relocation, remaining or renaming determined by the council.”
The Jessie Ball duPont Foundation offered to cover the cost of bringing professional facilitators from the University of Virginia’s Institute for Engagement and Facilitation to help with the community meetings.
City Council also was going to appoint five community leaders to a citizen committee that would go to the meetings and make a recommendation to City Council, which would have the final call. The appointment of such community leaders and scheduling the community meetings is the responsibility of the council president.
Todd said the banner flown by the plane over the football stadium “should have been an eye-opener for a lot of people that we’re in the Deep South” and the monuments in Jacksonville and other cities went up across the South during the era of Jim Crow segregation.
“They were raised to send a message to the African-American community that whites were in complete control over Southern states and the false ideology of white supremacy would be the order of the day,” he said.