“Confederate monuments—can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
In a sense, that’s the position Jacksonville policymakers find themselves in, weeks after City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche attempted to bring Jacksonville into 2017 by saying it would be a good idea to remove the monuments.
Upon her assumption of the presidency this summer, Brosche gave a speech in which she discussed her anticipated priorities of her council term—matters including restoring the city’s park system to bygone glory, public safety, et al.
A recurrent theme of the speech was that the council, and arguably the city, is “stronger together.” (As Hillary Clinton doesn’t need that catchphrase anymore, it was right there for the taking.)
There were grumblings about the Brosche era from the start, though much of that grousing was from the people who got dealt out of council leadership—the exceptions that proved the rule of “stronger together,” if we follow that line of thinking.
People complained about the committees, especially the finance committee, the deliberations of which, especially during the budget process, were often long-winded and tangential to the actual budget itself.
All of that was inside baseball, of course. A few hundred people in Jacksonville are plugged in enough to know the players and why that game matters.
After Charlottesville, when Brosche called for the monuments’ removal, the inside baseball game became public theater.
The hard right came out, as did the activist left. Confederate flags became so ubiquitous in Hemming Park that I keep expecting the Fabulous Freebirds to emerge from the Giant Mouth. The rhetoric three weeks ago at council sprawled over three hours of public comment.
Was anyone convinced to change their position by a single word? Nope.
Can consensus be reached? Nope.
Someone loses in this equation. If and when legislation is filed, council would be compelled to pick the loser.
Do they shiv the Heritage Not Hate crowd in the back? It’s possible.
The argument for jobbing them out: They’re old, they’re atavistic, they’re in the way. Their viewpoints don’t jibe with the Jacksonville of the Future. The monuments are stark reminders of Jim Crow: segregated schools, separate water fountains, and the most grievous abuse of African Americans under the guise of public policy.
Every Confederate monument is a reminder of how the South was built, plantation by plantation, with the dirt farmers sent out to die for that way of life—as were conscripted slaves themselves. And a reminder of what came after: the Ku Klux Klan, Reconstruction, Separate But Equal, Axe Handle Saturday, the crack epidemic, unfettered expansion of the prison industry and its concomitant destruction of African-American family structures.
How many of these issues were direct results of the Lost Cause, of the dehumanization of African Americans? All of them. America was founded on an apartheid-style culture; for many people, such a culture still exists, without any real attempt to make a reckoning with the past and the present it wrought.
As Faulkner wrote, the past isn’t prologue; it isn’t even past.
When Brosche made her original proposal, I lauded her political courage: The issue, as validated by polls ranging from the self-selecting ones on local newscasts to Gravis and internal polling in City Hall, is a political loser locally.
It’s a 70/30 issue—70 percent, give or take, want the monuments to remain in place. While one can quibble about the numbers, the sampling, and all the other things in one poll or another, the reality is that there aren’t any polls that contradict that spread.
Why do people oppose monument removal? Some have ancestors who were in the war, and have a sentimental attachment to the idea of Confederate valor. Some believe the monuments contribute to a deeper understanding of history. Some are just racists. Some simply don’t care enough to tear them down.
Last week, we saw Confederate monuments, most visibly, the one in Hemming Park, defaced with red spray paint. Leaving aside the question of whether actual anti-monument forces were responsible, or whether pro-monument types did it as a false flag operation to make the opposition look bad, the vandalism brought the moment—once more—to its crisis.
Mayor Lenny Curry called the vandalism “disgusting.” Councilman Reggie Brown told the T-U it was time for council to vote on it one way or another. Brown wants the monuments gone.
Council didn’t vote on it this week—not even close. There’s not a bill yet. There’s been no place identified to house the monuments. There’s no estimated costs or funding mechanism.
The debate will continue, with the polarities getting quoted in the press. Is this sustainable for the long term? Expect that we will find out one way or another soon enough.