JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A piece of history that Jacksonville can’t – or won’t – let go of heads back into the legislative crosshairs, with a proposal to remove the city’s most prominent Confederate tribute – the Women of the Southland statue.
“These statues should have been down decades ago,” said Wells Todd of Take 'Em Down Jax. The group has picketed City Hall twice a month since November, when the Jacksonville City Council blocked Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.3 million plan remove the statute from Springfield Park.
“It has hurt the African American community in a very significant way," Todd says of the statues. "It’s torn at the fabric of our children's self-esteem.”
Todd welcomes the bill introduced by Jacksonville City Councilmember Matt Carlucci to kickstart the process, setting a July deadline for coming up with a plan and capping costs at $500,000.
“I’m just kicking the process off because the strategic plan says that we're supposed to do this by the July of 2022,” Carlucci said.
Capping the removal cost at a half-million dollars is just a starting point, Carlucci said, but it’s his goal to temper the contentious tone of earlier discussions.
The plan calls for a series of public meetings, which Carlucci hopes will be structured differently than the incendiary ones last fall – including one in which spectators were cleared from council chambers.
“These meetings can be really very civil,” said Carlucci. He declined to give specifics, saying he will defer to Council President Sam Newby.
“It’s polarizing, let’s face it,” says Carlucci. Some supporters of keeping the Springfield statute cite its artistic value. Others argue that removing it whitewashes history. And still others vocally support for the goals and values of the Confederacy.
Carlucci believes the city as a whole needs to recognize the pain caused by Civil War tributes.
“It conjures up pain, bad memories. It conjures up an unwelcoming environment to our city. People think of lynching when they see that. They think of families being divided up in the days of slavery.”
Getting rid of the tributes in light of that, he added, “I mean, it's just a matter of a little sacrifice.”
Todd is unpersuaded of the need for additional meetings. “We don't need any more meetings. We've had enough meetings,” he said.
But he called the bill “a good thing. “We don’t care how the statutes come down, we don't care how you remove them. They could come in with a wrecking ball today, knock that down [indicating the Confederate memorial in James Weldon Johnson Park] and knock the one down in Springfield Park, and take the trash away.”
In a statement, Mayor Curry said, On October 21, 2021, my administration proposed a solution (Ord 2021-752) regarding confederate monuments. This legislation provided a secure funding source for the removal and relocation of the Tribute To The Women Of The Confederacy monument in Springfield Park. The City Council had the opportunity to support or reject the removal of this monument. At their meeting on November 9th, they refused to vote, and instead withdrew this important piece of legislation.”