Earlier today, the Jacksonville Historical Society hosted a launch event for “Jake!,” the new biography about former Jacksonville mayor Jake Godbold written by his longtime friend and strategist Mike Tolbert.
The book chronicles Godbold’s rise “from public housing to public adoration,” describing the triumphs of his lengthy local political career as a council member and two-term mayor including the creation of Jacksonville Jazz Fest, the Riverwalk, and The Jacksonville Landing. It also highlights his and Tolbert’s efforts to lure an NFL franchise to Jacksonville, which would pay off less than a decade after he left office in 1987.
Tolbert spoke briefly at the event and closed his remarks by reading the closing paragraphs from the book.
Godbold was – and still is – a revered figure in Jax politics, considered a man of the people with a deep love and appreciation for Jacksonville. The admiration for Godbold was clear at the launch event, with around 200 people piling into Old St. Andrews Church to attend.
The former mayor was the recipient of multiple standing ovations, and around a dozen former co-workers and constituents took to the microphone to share stories about Godbold.
Many of the stories shared about Godbold centered around the same message: that he was a man of high integrity who believed in, and fought for, inclusiveness. They mentioned how he secured the first performance by black performers – specifically, the Jackson Five – at the Gator Bowl, and how he made a point of hiring women and minorities in a time when it wasn’t a common practice in Jax politics. They spoke of his dedication to the city, and how the completion of the Prime Osborn Convention Center brought tears to his eyes.
Then the man of the hour himself took the podium to a thunderous applause. He spoke briefly about the process of writing and funding the book and about some of the people he worked with over the years.
He then shifted to a topic of particular relevance right now: hate.
“I’m sick and tired of hatred,” Godbold said emphatically. He told a story from his days in office of a black department head who was denied access to the amenities within his own neighborhood – a situation that was only corrected once Godbold intervened.
He went on to say that while we may all differ in policies, we shouldn’t differ in our ability to show love to each other.
“Please, get the hatred out,” he said.
In addition to the book launch, Godbold officially donated a collection of scrapbooks featuring news clippings from his time in office to the Jacksonville Historical Society – it’ll now become part of their archives.