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Activists set on removing Confederate monument in Jacksonville plan to pressure hesitant City Council

 Northside Coalition of Jacksonville President Ben Frazier address the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee after disrupting the meeting earlier
Raymon Troncoso
Northside Coalition of Jacksonville President Ben Frazier address the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee after disrupting the meeting earlier

Activists in favor of removing a Confederate monument on public property in Jacksonville are hoping economic pressure will persuade City Council members who have so far voted to keep the statue up.

The City oCuncil's Finance Committee voted Tuesday against an ordinance to remove the Monument to the Women of the Confederacy from Springfield Park, formerly known as Confederate Park. The legislation also failed to win support in two prior committees Monday.

So far, 10 members of City Council have voted in committee to keep the statue standing on public land: Ron Salem, Randy DeFoor, Al Ferraro, Danny Becton, Michael Boylan, Terrance Freeman, Kevin Carrico, LeAnna Cumber, Randy White and Aaron Bowman.

Just four have voted for its removal: Joyce Morgan, Matt Carlucci, Reggie Gaffney and Ju'Coby Pittman.

Moving the statue, rather than destroying it, would cost the city $1.3 million, and a change to Jacksonville's 2021-2022 fiscal year budget would need to be made. That means the ordinance requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass instead of a simple majority.

Ben Frazier is the president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, a community activist group that has put out a petition-letter with over 2,000 signatures as of Tuesday urging City Council to remove the statue.

With the vote likely to fail, Frazier said the coalition has begun to send letters to private interests in an attempt to solicit the support of business coalitions like the JAX Chamber and the Jacksonville Civic Council to put economic pressure on reluctant council members.

"Those captains of private industry need to begin to stand up and to speak out, to let the city know that it's time Jacksonville's reputation and image not to be stained as a sleepy southern town with Spanish moss hanging down and people singing Dixie," Frazier said.

His argument, one shared by Councilman Gaffney in committee, is that the city is inviting public backlash by refusing to remove the statue and is creating a toxic environment for business.

"I think we may have opened up a Pandora's Box where you're gonna invite the whole of America to Jacksonville to protest the statue, and we don't need that here," Gaffney said. "This will become the next headache for the council because it will continue to compete with everything else as we move forward."

Frazier disrupted the Finance Committee after its vote to keep the statue, which led its chair, Salem, to call an impromptu five-minute recess while the chamber tried to silence the outburst.

Frazier returned during a public comment period to address the committee.

"Shame on you! It's time to move this city forward into the bright sunshine of a brand new day," Frazier said. "Where will you be? How will history write your story? What side will you be on?"

The final vote on the ordinance is expected to take place during the City Council's meeting next week, on Nov. 9.

At least five members of the opposition would need to change their minds for the bill to reach the 13 out of 18 votes it needs to succeed.

The bronze statue on a solid granite base, which the Mayor's Office has appraised at $808,000 in materials alone, remains covered in a large tarp after previously being defaced with graffiti, which the city had to pay to clean and restore.

It depicts a Confederate woman with a rebel flag tucked under her arm while she sits and reads to two small children.

Council members who have opposed moving it to storage or private property have cited several reasons for their defense of the monument. Some have called the statue a part of Jacksonville's history and heritage; others have decried the cost of the removal; and others have denied that it's a Confederate monument at all but is instead a celebration of women who have struggled during war.

Those who want the statue off of public land, like Frazier and Council members Carlucci and Morgan, have pointed to the history of Jim Crow and anti-Black discrimination in America as proof of the statue's origins and purpose.

"Southern women were not like the lady in the statue. I think it's sweet and precious she's reading to her children, but it's part of a picture that misrepresents what was going on," Carlucci said. "For women of color, losses came on the frontlines of battle because of lynchings and the slave trading, dividing of families, unhealthy living conditions, abuse and other horrors."

"I truly understand what people are saying about what this monument represents," Morgan said. "But just like women were property, Black Americans were property too. If it depicts the people left behind at home, I was left behind at home too. So were Black Americans."

Most statues honoring the confederacy, including the one in Springfield, were erected during two time periods in America. In the early 1900s, during the end of the Reconstruction Era of the South and the advent of Jim Crow laws enshrining once again legal discrimination against Black Americans, and in the 1950s and 1960s during the fight over segregation and integration at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

The Springfield monument was dedicated in 1915 by the Florida chapter of United Confederate Veterans.

Copyright 2021 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Raymon Troncoso