JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Crews removed a Confederate monument from a park in Jacksonville, Fla., early Wednesday morning, after years of debate and controversy over its removal.
Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan ordered the removal of the “Tribute to the Women of the Southern Confederacy” monument, which has stood north of downtown in Springfield Park since 1915. Deegan said the monument was a presence of division that had no place in a city park.
“Symbols matter,” she said. “They tell the world what we stand for and what we aspire to. By removing the Confederate monument from Springfield Park, we demonstrate our belief in our common humanity. That we are all created equal. The same flesh and bones. The same blood that flows through our veins. The same heart and the same soul.”
A crowd gathered on the sidewalk erupted in cheers as crews took down two bronze statues, one of a woman in a dress carrying a Confederate flag and the other of a woman reading to two children.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Wells Todd, a Jacksonville resident. “Why did it take so long to remove something that should never have been installed?”
An opponent of impeachment, state Rep. Dean Black, R-Jacksonville, called the move a “staggering abuse of power” by Deegan. He said doing so without consulting city leaders or having a City Council vote “is another in a long line of woke Democratic obsessions with cancel culture and destroying history.”
Black filed a bill for the 2022 legislative session and again for the 2023 session to prevent cities from removing Confederate monuments and other historic landmarks in the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis would have the authority to revoke and fine any elected official involved in destroying such memorials.
Wednesday’s removal is the latest effort by public officials and advocates to tear down monuments and memorials commemorating the Confederacy across the United States. Hundreds of Confederate statues have been removed from public spaces following protests for racial justice sparked by the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
And since Congress created the Naming Commission in 2021, many Confederate monuments have also been removed from military spaces. Last week, the U.S. military removed a century-old Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
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The debate over the fate of the Confederate monument began in 2020
Discussions over the fate of the Confederate Women Monument began in the summer of 2020 when former Mayor Lenny Curry removed another monument, a statue of a Confederate soldier that had stood in a downtown park for more than 100 years.
Curry then proposed that the city also remove the Confederate Women’s Monument from Springfield Park at the end of 2021, but the Jacksonville City Council withdrew the legislation without voting on it.
Earlier this month, the Jacksonville General Litigation Office determined that City Council approval was not needed because city funds were not being used for the work. The city’s general counsel, Michael Fackler, said that as mayor, Deegan had the executive authority to make the decision about the monument without seeking approval from the city council.
“We have worked closely with purchasing, public works and parks officials on the approved scope of work, consistent with municipal code, on how we contract and perform these services,” Fackler said.
A grant from duPont’s Jessie Ball Fund and anonymous donations to 904WARD, a Jacksonville nonprofit, covered the cost of removing the statues, city officials said. The work will also involve removing a plaque and installing temporary plaques on the pedestal carvings at a total cost of $187,000, according to the city.
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“This is not an abuse of power”
During her campaign to replace Curry, Deegan favored removing the monument and she has repeated this position several times since taking office on July 1.
“I think it’s very, very difficult to have unity in a city… if someone has a monument to a time when you weren’t even considered a person. It would be very, very difficult for you and your family to walk past this every day in your neighborhood,” Deegan said during a Mandarin town hall in August.
Deegan told reporters in November that Black’s legislation would have no impact on what she does regarding the Springfield Park monument.
City Council member Matt Carlucci, who has supported moving the monument for years, said Deegan puts Jacksonville “on the right side of history.”
“This is not an abuse of power,” Carlucci added.
Contributor: Associated Press
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