New Places of Honor That All of Jacksonville Can Be Proud Of


Jacksonville’s City Hall and a United States Flag overlook the 1898 Confederate Monument in Hemming Park, August 18, 2017

I’ve lived most of my life in Jacksonville, Florida. The time has now come for me to speak out about the Confederate monuments and names on our schools. I do this because I love our growing city. We must always respect our history. We must always respect heritage. However, we must acknowledge the realities of history and how it impacted the community in which we live.

In January, 2012 I helped to coordinate a candlelight vigil in Hemming Park in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. As I stood there in a large circle of people gathered from throughout the city – around the candles- thoughts swirled in my head about civil rights history, Dr. Martin Luther King, the injustices I saw simply driving around the city, and brutality I grew up seeing on television. As I thought about this, I viewed the monument of a Confederate light infantry soldier overlooking this vigil in Hemming Park and realized the ultimate contradiction that lurks in the background. A contradiction that we live with that is as daily as a morning cup of coffee. A growing city – becoming more and more diverse in a mighty nation chooses to continue to honor the very forces that split our nation and almost destroyed it in the 1860’s. It is time to make it (and other similar places) places of honor that every citizen of Jacksonville can be proud of.

The relocations of things and renamings are not new to Hemming Park. In 1898 there were 2 hotels around “St. James Park” : The Windsor and St James Hotels. A fountain was located where the monument is now. It was later relocated elsewhere in the park and the park renamed after Charles Hemming, a Confederate veteran who fought against our country. I admire Hemming for the gift of the monument- but I denounce the treason. He had no malice in his gift. He was attempting (in his own way) to thank the city for the times that forged him as a young man in the Confederate Light Infantry. He made his fortune in Colorado but visited in 1898 to gift the monument. It survived the Great Fire of 1901. The city grew as Hemming Park was at the center of commerce. What we know as City Hall was not even constructed until around 1912 and even then it was Cohen’s (May Cohens) Department Store until the 1980s. What we have in the year 2017 is a unique place of honor in a city square. It is time to take it back.

In 1914 there was a large Confederate Veterans Reunion and Parade In Jacksonville. They encamped in Dignan Park (renamed Confederate Park after the reunion). A “Women of the Southland” monument was erected there. After World War I, there was a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Segregation was so strong in the city that on August 27, 1960 African Americans protesting by sitting at a “Whites Only” lunch counter at Woolworth’s along with other bystanders (where the Federal Courthouse now stands) were beaten by racists in a melee on Hogan Street as the monument perched in the distance .Times were changing. After a lot of blood, sweat, and tears segregation fell. There still remains a bitterness and coarseness that is palatable to this day. Continued incidents of police brutality and rioting occur throughout the nation.

The Confederate monument is a monument to a man’s life and the lives of men he knew and fought with. It belongs in a historical park where it can be properly respected and cared for. I think that it should be relocated to Confederate Park and placed along with the Confederate “Women of the Southland” monument. The old armory nearby should become a museum administered by a professional organization where the schoolkids after viewing these monuments to the Confederacy could learn that in 1865 the city of Jacksonville was as a Union military officer described it: “pathetically dilapidated, a mere skeleton of its former self, a victim of war.”

I attended Jeff Davis and JEB Stuart Junior High Schools and graduated from Forrest High School in 1993. I graduated from a school that had to have it’s name changed because Nathan Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan and it never should have been named after him to begin with. It would have been nice if I could have graduated from Hans Tanzler High or Norm Thagard High. What greatness did Jefferson Davis and JEB Stuart ever bestow upon our city? None. Death and destruction rained down upon the common folk for political ends that were evil.

Various bridges are named for figures who have rather shady racist pasts but who made economic development a priority that greatly benefited the city. Who can argue that the roads and bridges that they fought for did not make the city what it is today? Notably the Hart and Mathews Bridge are not getting any younger and it will soon be time for new and safer spans eventually with new names. Andrew Jackson is a controversial figure. He was the first Territorial Governor of Florida and later President of the United States. He fought to preserve the union as economic and moral conflicts began to impact the nation. He exiled Native Americans on to the deadly “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s. A statue honors him outside the Jacksonville Landing.

There are many people who made Jacksonville the thriving, growing city that it is today: businesspeople, politicians, entertainers, scientists, activists, and other leaders. It would be fitting that we celebrate the construction of our vibrant city instead of the destruction of the past. If it were my choice- I would honor Jake Godbold, the former Mayor of Jacksonville. His hard work in the 1980’s forged the blueprint of the city that we have today. It is amazingly ironic that in the shadow of the Confederate monument is a small statue honoring the late Congressman Charles E. Bennett- a leader who represented us in the US Congress from 1949 until 1993. In our park just outside City Hall, the Public Library, and the Federal Courthouse let us one day gather to celebrate light instead of darkness, peace instead of war, and love instead of hate. We will remember our history as we celebrate the works that make Jacksonville, Florida true to it’s slogan that I recall from my childhood: The Bold New City of The South.

George Farrar is a Progressive filmmaker and commentator who  lived most of his life in Jacksonville, of which  over 18 of those years he lived on The Westside. He moved to El Cajon, California in 2019.

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