The South’s racist past is a wound festering in the shadows. Any internet therapist will tell you that acknowledging one’s true history, even when it hurts, can help us heal and move on.
To that end, on June 26, Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche proposed claiming the Duval County Memorial Monument from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama and installing it in Hemming Park. The monument is one in a set of 800 columns commemorating lynching victims; each represents a county in the U.S. where at least one lynching occurred between 1877 and 1950, and is inscribed with the names of the victim(s). There are two sets; one will remain in the memorial’s permanent collection, the other is for each county to claim and install—or not, as the case may be.
The symbolism of the Hemming Park location probably isn’t lost on anyone, for fresh remains the memory of the recent argument about our Confederate monuments, particularly the soldier who casts a wistful eye to the south from the center of the park across from City Hall. Jacksonville may not be ready to tear down all such relics, nor even to recontextualize as St. Augustine is doing, but Brosche believes we can at least pay respect to the seven local lynching victims who, regardless of their real or imagined crimes, did not deserve to lose their lives to the brutality of the mob.
Private contributors are expected to provide the funds for transportation and installation, so the City Council need only pass the proposed legislation and the mayor sign it. Our park services department would then work with the National Memorial to ensure the monument is properly placed in a suitable location.
Getting what will essentially be a free memorial sounds like a no-brainer to me, and probably to most reading this. Students of history may recall that the Confederate soldier statue was also donated to the city, so there is precedent.
But this is Jacksonville, where the only thing that easy is the city slogan.
On July 11, Council President Aaron Bowman hit the pause button on claiming our lynching memorial when he appointed a Special Committee on Historic Remembrance. His memo begins by noting that 2018 is the 50th anniversary of consolidation, when “the people of disparate communities elected to band together, and they created one city, one Jacksonville.” (Bonus points if you recognize Lenny Curry’s 2015 campaign slogan.)
Okayyy, you’re probably thinking, what does consolidation have to do with a lynching memorial? Well, nothing.
The memo meanders for a few lines about contemplating the past and recognizing history “that considers our diversity and the challenges we have to overcome” before dropping the dime: The committee is tasked with “advising how best to reflect our history in our parks and public spaces,” (bingo!) and “advising on enhancing existing events or creating new ones to celebrate historical moments.”
To allow ample time for the committee to perform this important work, the memo asks council to defer consideration of Brosche’s proposal until the committee reports its findings and recommendations. These are due by April 30, 2019, which, if you’re counting, is nine months from now, six months after the anniversary of consolidation, and two weeks before the city’s general election.
Far from being left out of the conversation, Brosche is one of the seven councilors Bowman has appointed to the committee. Though that number could drop by one depending on the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the governor’s appointment of Terrance Freeman, who was named to the committee one day after the governor subbed him in for Reggie Brown—on the same day he moved to his new district.
To recap: Brosche has proposed accepting a gift that will allow our city to pay homage to victims of racism, at a time when many would agree that our community desperately needs healing and reconciliation along racial lines. Plus, it’s free and just waiting for us to pick it up. There’s really no good reason not to pay our respects to these seven lynching victims. Rather than proceed with haste, lest those anticipated donations are re-appropriated by a Nigerian scammer, we’re going to wait the better part of a year before we even think about bringing the monument home.
So why wait? It could be that Bowman wants to take time to truly consider the best place for the memorial. Or it could be a chess move intended to manufacture favorable optics and timing so that someone, or someones, will benefit politically.
If the former, great. We should make thoughtful decisions about important matters.
If the latter, well, many will be left with that same old bitter, nasty taste of politics was usual.
It’s hard for a wound to heal when people keep rubbing muck in it.