As you’ve probably figured out by now, we’re big fans of the city’s history.
We support the preservation of Jacksonville’s historical structures, and of stories of the city’s history. This includes even the ugly parts – if for no other reason than to try not to make the same mistakes again.
But while all parts of our history should be preserved, are there some things that aren’t worthy of being celebrated?
In recent years, a national debate has been sparked over the presence of monuments depicting Confederate soldiers that have long been placed throughout city squares in many southern states. Several cities across the country have removed their monuments, but not without quite a bit of protest and hateful commentary.
Meanwhile, in downtown Jacksonville’s busiest park, a Confederate memorial statue installed in 1898 still stands. But should it stay there?
The monument, located in the center of Hemming Park, was donated by Civil War veteran Charles Hemming. It was intended to serve as a memorial for soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War – on the side of the Confederacy, to be specific. A city council bill aimed at making the statue a historic landmark was withdrawn after community backlash, but there are also no imminent plans to remove it.
Clearly, there are extremely passionate arguments on both sides of this issue.
Some argue that removing these monuments is the equivalent of erasing history. Others say it’s dishonorable to the soldiers who fought in the war – even if their cause may have been rather dishonorable itself – and that it’s symptomatic of a larger societal problem of “being offended by everything.”
However, those in favor of removal believe that the monuments glamorize those who fought in the name of slavery and white supremacy – causes that were inseparable from, and undeniably intertwined with, the Confederacy. And to have the monument located in the same park that acted as a battleground for racial equality during the ‘60s seems to send highly conflicting messages about the city and its priorities.
There’s really only one thing that the two sides of this argument are capable of agreeing on, and it’s that neither of them has any room for negotiation in their viewpoints.
One potential solution would be to simply relocate the monument. After all, Springfield has a park that is literally named “Confederate Park” which already features memorials to Confederate soldiers. But those in favor of keeping the monument would argue that that park would simply become the next target for eradication, and those against would argue that Confederate Park shouldn’t still exist in 2017 either.
So since no matter what ends up happening, someone’s going to be unhappy, what should the city do?
Here’s what we think.
First of all, the distinction has to made between preserving history and celebrating it. The monument at Hemming Park was added with the goal of celebrating the lives of those who fought for the Confederate cause. If the monument comes down, the memory of the Confederacy is still preserved through several southern museums, history textbooks, and cinema. In other words, there’s no risk of that part of history no longer being preserved just because a monument comes down.
It’s also worth noting that even after the statue’s removal, the park would still be named in honor of a Confederate veteran – so it’s not like the spirit of the Confederacy would disappear from it altogether.
Second, it’s important to note how entangled the Confederacy is with slavery. While some will argue that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights more so than slavery, no one can reasonably argue that the retention of slavery was not one of the South’s primary goals.
As such, a monument to people who fought at least in part for such a reprehensible goal is naturally offensive to the city’s large African-American population. For them, it’s a reminder of the oppression their ancestors once faced – and also a tacit reminder that some of their own neighbors wouldn’t really mind if things were more like they were back then.
So since the monument doesn’t necessarily offer significant value to the community but does present a reminder of, and border on glorifying, uglier times that no one is soon to forget without its presence, it seems like the right thing to do would be to remove the monument from Hemming Park. Another spot could be found for it, either at Confederate Park or in a Civil War museum.
But as far as having it in the middle of Hemming Park? We think it’s time to move past that.
Do you think the monument should be removed? Let us know what you think in the comments section below or on social media!