JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville’s inventory for Confederate memorials lists three monuments and eight markers on city property related to the Civil War.
As of Tuesday, there is one less, according to News 6 partner WJXT-TV.
Crews were seen overnight using a crane to remove a Confederate monument in Jacksonville’s Hemming Park, the downtown city plaza framed on two sides by City Hall and the Federal Courthouse. The statue and nameplate were hauled off well before daylight, leaving an empty pedestal.
And the same morning, the Visit Jacksonville website, which has a description of Hemming Park, was updated to reflect the monument was removed from the park “in June 2020.”
The change was unannounced and comes ahead of a peaceful protest led by Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette and rapper Lil Duval that’s set to start at 10 a.m. outside City Hall. The mayor is expected to join the march.
The monument, topped by a Confederate infantryman, was built in 1898 and was one of the few landmarks to survive the fire that destroyed most of downtown Jacksonville in 1901.
Records show the statue is a granite monument with a bronze Confederate soldier depicted facing south and standing at ease with his hand resting on his musket. It once stood as a memorial to soldiers and sailors from Florida who served during the Civil War, but its existence has a contentious history.
The City Council had multiple discussions about removing the statue, but none had ever succeeded.
In 2018, activists set out on a three-day, 40-mile walk from Jacksonville to St. Augustine to draw attention to a call for the removal of Confederate monuments. The “March for Change” was organized by Take 'Em Down Jax, which called the monuments symbols of hate. Members said they wanted the statues removed and relocated.
Ben Frazier with the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville issued a statement late Monday night:
“It’s not about the brick, the marble, the metal or the stone; this has never been a fight about southern heritage. It’s really about Confederate heritage and there is a definitive difference between the two.
“Confederate heritage represents an ugly story of racial hatred, discrimination, social injustice, lynchings and slavery.
“For the city to move forward into the light of a brand new day it must divorce itself from a history of inequality and a legacy of racial injustice."
Frazier led a celebration Tuesday morning in Hemming Park after the statue’s removal.
It’s unclear who authorized the removal of the statue overnight. News4Jax hasn’t learned yet if plans are for the statue to be destroyed or recycled, or if it will be moved to another location.
Some argue Confederate monuments represent part of American history, but others say images of the Confederacy are reminders of slavery and oppression for many Americans. Calls for their removal nationwide have been growing for years and found a renewed fervor with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Two weeks after the killing propelled the treatment of African-Americans to the top of the national conversation, Mayor Lenny Curry is expected to announce a long-awaited change affecting the Confederate memorial not only in Hemming Park but others on city property.
In the fall of 2017, there were marches and growing public calls for the removal of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments and markers in the wake of a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent as demonstrators defended a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Anna Lopez Brosche, who was president of the City Council at the time, called for an inventory of all monuments on city-owned property, with the intention of asking for them to be removed. The Parks and Recreation Department found there are three Civil War-related monuments and eight historic markers on city property.
“I received inventory back from the Department of Parks and Recreation of these monuments and markers and I’ve asked questions of general counsel in terms of understanding what laws and processes and what are the options with respect to monuments,” Brosche said at the time.
Critics have questioned how the memorials would be removed and put in places such as museums or universities. News4Jax was told it may be impossible to do without ruining the foundations.
Brosche said she also looked at other options, like perhaps putting up new monuments that fill in the gaps of Jacksonville’s history, and she received a lot of pushback -- even threats.
"Some of them crossed the line a little bit, in terms of wishing me bodily harm, things like that," Brosche said. "But on the whole, most people are appropriately expressing their passion about this."
Some 500 letters and emails later, Brosche saw a lot of passion on all sides.
Broche left office less than a year later and the issue of what to do with the statues and memorials was never resolved.