Last night, Jacksonville’s city council voted overwhelmingly in favor of two ordinances to rename city parks that were named in honor of Confederate soldiers. As a result, Hemming Park will be renamed James Weldon Johnson Park, while Confederate Park will become Springfield Park.
Ordinance #2020-0357, introduced by Garrett Dennis and Rory Diamond, calls for the entirety of Hemming Park to be renamed James Weldon Johnson Park. The ordinance was approved by a vote of 16-2, with Danny Becton and Randy White voting against it; an attempted compromise that would have had Johnson share naming honors with a “veterans plaza” was struck down prior to the final vote.
The park was originally known as City Park, having been renamed Hemming Park in 1898 – more than three decades after the Civil War ended – to commemorate the donation of a Confederate monument by Charles Hemming. That monument was removed by the city earlier this year.
The city square will now instead honor James Weldon Johnson, a Jacksonville native who is best remembered for penning “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a hymn that became known as the Black national anthem. A noted writer and avid civil rights activist, Johnson later became leader of the NAACP’s executive team. He and his family grew up in LaVilla; the parcel of land their house sat on is now home to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park.” His father once worked at a hotel next to the park that will now bear his name.
Ordinance #2020-0347, introduced by Reggie Gaffney, calls for the renaming of Confederate Park in Springfield, instead naming it Springfield Park. This ordinance passed unanimously.
The park opened in 1907 as Dignan Park. It was renamed in 1914 – just under 50 years after the Civil War ended – after it was chosen as the site for the United Confederate Veterans’ annual reunion.
While the decisions to rename the parks – particularly Confederate Park – took longer than one might expect, they represent an increasingly-common display of progress within the Bold City.