It was not just another day when the sun rose over Confederate Park, now named Springfield Park for the neighborhood just north of downtown Jacksonville. Once the crown jewel of the city, the Springfield neighborhood was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. In 2010, Springfield was recognized by Southern Living Magazine as the No. 1 “comeback” neighborhood in the South, due to a resurgence of interest and redevelopment. In short, people were confidently fixing up and restoring the past and rightfully claiming their history, all of it.
This all changed in only six years. In 2016 a group of residents organized the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville. The coalition dedicated itself to “improving social, racial, and economic injustice.” As their website states their “compassion stretches across the Northside community with an increased awareness about the plight of unwed mothers, at-risk youth, and the elderly.” I wish to highlight their focus on mothers and youth as it applies to the events of December 27th and to the effort made to remove a bronze memorial featuring a mother and her children when over those seven years, the schools continued to fail generations of young people and neighborhood crime far exceeded that of the state and the nation.
One year later, The Liberation News, a socialist website posted an article about another grassroots organization that formed in Jacksonville.
On August 2, the activists and community leaders of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition gathered downtown to celebrate the official launch of the Take Them Down Jax campaign in an effort being primarily spearheaded by Occupy Jacksonville, with the goal of removing monuments, symbols, and names that honor Confederate leaders, white supremacists, and slave owners from all public spaces in Jacksonville, Florida.
By 2018 the Northside Coalition worked side-by-side with the new Take Them Down group abandoning its own and joining the new class war as stated by the Liberation News. The enemies of progress lay in the many monuments, symbols and names. All efforts must be devoted to “dismantle the horrific, oppressive legacy of the Confederacy if they were to build unity among working class people- rather than letting the rich rather than letting the rich and powerful divide us up along racial lines.” Helping to fuel a completely different view of our American history was the first publishing of the 1619 Project in the New York Times, the following year in August of 2018. Literally overnight 242 years of history was reduced to our nation is irredeemably evil being that it was found by slave-owning whites.
There was great celebration on December 27th as with the removal of the Women of the Southern Confederacy statues and plaques were removed. This was the last of some thrirty Confederate remembrances that once graced historic city. The social justice groups have achieved a victory. One that had no equal in the war against Confederate monuments that originated in 2015 when Neo-Nazi and white supremacist, Dylan Roof murdered twelve church goers in Charleston South Carolina. An event that gave then New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu righteous cause to remove all of the city’s monuments contrary to Louisiana statutes. It was Landrieu who was called by a higher and great cause and without the consent of the City Council secured an unnamed private donor who would pay for their removal. Mayor Landrieu who contributed greatly to the rise in crime and the collapse of a once great city notified the press that he would deliver an address on May 23, 2017. The cancel culture still celebrates what is referred to as Landrieu’s Gallier Hall Address. In it, Landrieu set the stage for the legitimacy of removing every Confederate monument. For example:
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for. After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone's lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.
It was that day in New Orleans that the myth of the South’s commemorative monuments as modern-day terrorism came to life. Three years later, immediately after the death of a black man in Minneapolis, Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney would tell his audience of growing up and walking by one of these threatening artifacts. The work crew hired by Jacksonville Mayor Deegan had just begun to dismantle the Springfield monument when Kelly Frazier, the President of the Northside Coalition remarked to the press:
We hope this is truly the end for this hateful monstrosity in Springfield Park that glorifies the Confederacy. When it is gone, there will be another ray of hope for a brand new day in Jacksonville.
Writers from cultures around the world have written about how humankind can be so conditioned that they can see something that isn’t there. Plato first postulated this deception in 400 B.C. He stated that there is a reality outside of what humans experience. He compared the human "experience through the senses" to the experience of a caveman looking at a shadow play on the cave wall: The caveman can only see the shadows on the wall, he/she has never experienced anything else, and believes that those shadows are all that there is of reality.
Returning to Ms. Frazier’s reference to the statue of the mother reading to her two young children as a “hateful monstrosity”, one has to question her ability to see reality. Better yet, Ms. Frazier’s ability to detect personal bias. For as far as the English language, and as stated in Miriam Webster when something is “monstrous” it means:
So, let’s have a look at this “hateful” and monstrous sculpture by the noted New York artist Allen Newman and the marble monument that surrounds it.
You don’t need to possess a Ph.D. to figure out that if you circulated these images to people outside of Jacksonville, you know, humans with the same blood and humanity around the globe, chances are no one would respond that the above looks hateful and monstrous. Sorry Kelly, but you triggered the artist and the anthropologist in me with those remarks. Also, I am confident that if I were to share with the images the inscription on the monument, this too would garner compassion and not fear or hate:
Memory of the Women of Our Southland, 1861-1865.
Let this mute but eloquent structure speak to generations to come, of a generation of the past. Let it repeat perpetually the imperishable story of our women of the 60’s. Those noble women who sacrificed their all upon their country’s altar. Unto their memory, the Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Also, of this particular work of which Newman was proud, he wrote at the time.
When the Greeks wished to honor a divinity, they made a statue of note and built a temple around it. …and I have approached the subject from this attitude of reverence. …in brief, the group represents the Woman of the South instructing future generations, as well as showing her the most privileged guardian of the home ties.
Over his distinguished career, Newman received commissions and created statuary in the North and the South. Never, though, had one of his works been removed. Not till now, not till Jacksonville.
Social justice warriors like Frazier had convinced themselves and a large number of Jacksonville’s residents that the years of failing schools and rising crime could all be reversed and all it would take was tearing down the city’s Confederate commemoratives. Eventually, the elected officials played along. It is a known fact that the Far-Left handbook has always called for the destruction of the nuclear family, Such, the subject matter and sentiment of Newman’s sculpture was upsetting beyond the Confederacy identifier. Despite what Google searches reveal, misogyny by those on the left has been increasing, along with racism. It is not surprising then that a statue not only of a woman but a white Southern woman could be at the center of a cultural storm in 2023.
While Kelly and her counterpart in Take Them Down Jax were instrumental in its demise, they did not have the authority. This brings us to a critical part of the saga of the last remaining monument. The city’s new Mayor, Democrat Donna Deegan. For no sooner had she secured the funds and ordered the removal than both her authority to do so, as well as the timing for the removal, came under scrutiny. Had she gotten out in front weeks earlier responding to the proposed new law in the Florida legislature protecting all Confederate monuments and requiring strict penalties on officials responsible for their removal grandfathered back to 2020, her actions on Christmas week 2023 would have had more transparency. But as I stated, despite her claims to have sole authority, allowing her to bypass the City Council, she took over all of her interactions with the media.
Mayor Deegan made sure that her staff got the press release about the removal of the City’s Women of the South Monument to the media first thing Wednesday morning, December 27, 2023. The carefully worded press release by the former local news anchor turned politician, was filled with the type of virtue signaling we in the South have become used to since the Summer of 2020. But, unlike any of the 111 monuments removed nationally and the 29 others in Jacksonville that preceded it, Deegan took great pains to defend her actions legally. Something a former newscaster knows is that readers don’t care about whether or not the City’s Office of General Counsel reviewed her decision, or even if he found that the mayor had the authority or even that as stated, the General Counsel’s name happens to be Michael Fackler.
As a former news anchor, she knows that people rarely read beyond the headline. Her choice of words in fashioning the headline for the news release, Confederate statues are being removed from Springfield Park, did not fail in its misrepresentation. The correct and historical name for the 1914 memorial was Monument to the Women of the Southern Confederacy. Politicians turned historical revisionists, the likes of Deegan and Richmond’s Levar Stoney before her, who relied on reductionism. Therefore the “Confederacy bad” allowed for Confederate statues to suffice for a very complex history, and allowed the politician to garner her fair share of kudos from her base and an admiring press.
No statesman, Deegan did not hold a press conference. There was no grand Gallier Hall Address. To the city attorney’s discomfort and fear, Deegan kept talking to the press. She awkwardly attempted to tell us what happened wasn’t what happened. A device used by most Democrat politicians today Deegan argued the removal isn't an attempt to erase history but to "show that we’ve learned from it." When in fact, the monument was gone and given the city’s history now, given the city’s past, if anyone learned a damn thing. Far more surreal considering the subject matter of the Springfield mother and children sculpture was the following remark by the mayor.
Symbols matter. They tell the world what we stand for and what we aspire to be,". "By removing the Confederate monument from Springfield Park, we signal a belief in our shared humanity. That we are all created equal. The same flesh and bones. The same blood running through our veins. The same heart and soul.
By sticking to the it’s Confederate, so it is bad train of thought, with slavery running through it all, and ignoring the universal humanity of a woman teaching her children the image that she removed, Deegan advanced to a level of hypocrisy rarely seen in politics. But again, that was not what was worrying her. With the new state statute looming for 2024, in the background was the possibility of retribution from the State Republican-controlled House and Senate, not to mention her own Republican-controlled City Council. One of the authors of the proposed bill that would protect monuments like the one at Springfield is none other than Dean Black, who is the Chair of the Duval County Republicans.
The political environment in which Deegan finds herself, as well as her mayoral predecessor Lenny Curry contrasts dramatically with that of other former States of the Confederacy. For instance, when faced by mobs calling for the removal of Richmond’s celebrated Monument Avenue monuments in the summer of 2020, Mayor Levar Stoney had not only the support by the governor and the majority of his council, but the legislature had removed all protections for Confederate symbols and monuments months prior.
What concerns me is the fact that over the past eight years, the rightful owners of this particular monument have been silent. I mean the families of the original donors that collectively paid $12,000 and the $13,000 paid by the state. It’s no small thing. I went and searched for what that original investment of $25,000 back in 1915 would be today to discover the value of just the monument and not the land today is $767,627.50. As recently as 2007, the Springfield Improvement Association and Woman’s Club undertook the restoration of the statues. Such a change in attitude allows one to see just how dramatically the neighborhood has changed in a single generation and not for the better. I am reminded of all those who purchased and renovated homes on Richmond’s Monument Avenue that now look out on empty parks and circles.
By the end of the day, one news source carried a response by someone who actually read the city ordinance pertaining to donations to the city, in particular, city parks. He noted that despite the lead counsel’s interpretation that day in fact the 187,000 received by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and 904WARD cannot by law be earmarked and should go to the general fund. I guess we will find out. But one thing is certain for now: the granite Greek temple structure will stay for the estimate received to cut it into pieces and dispose of them was a cost to Jacksonville of 1.3 million dollars. Here is the carefully worded legal disclaimer obviously written by the counsel stated as follows:
The Office of General Counsel reviewed the mayor’s executive authority and found that because of the separation of powers, City Council approval was unnecessary since city funds were not being utilized or requested for the work that was completed.
“Our legal analysis finds that Mayor Deegan has the authority as executive of the City – and because city funds are not being utilized – to control the property, the park, and the monument,” said General Counsel Michael Fackler. “We have worked closely with Procurement, Public Works, and Parks on the approved scope of work in accordance with municipal code in how we contract for and complete these services.
Deegan told New 4 JAX that it was no secret the Confederate monument in Springfield Park was going to come down at some point. She said on Wednesday she decided the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day was the best time to make it happen and follow through on one of her campaign promises. Residents who opposed the removal and even council members who were not informed were surprised to see the work crews as the sun rose in the park. Mayor for eight months prior after a runoff election, why did she wait?
I’d say it’s a big day for Jacksonville. It’s a day to move us forward. We have been very focused on this monument because there was so much concern about the injury that it was doing to the community at large, and especially to the Black community that had to see that all day long.
In the end, I wonder just how you can measure the “injury to the community at large” the few who use and visit the park with a statue of a woman with her children versus those living in Springfield Park neighborhood where independent of its rich history has a crime rate 43% higher than the national average, a violent crime rate 28% higher than the national average and a resident has a 1 in 10 risk of being a victim. A city where student scores and proficiencies are substandard and 1 out of 4 charter schools are D and F grades. See to me, that is true injury.
But to the good people of Jacksonville, they have slain the monster and are free. Or are they? I am reminded of the quote by historian Gregor Brand, who lived under communism.
If anybody tries to penetrate the past with the knife of the present will always act in vain. The past is invulnerable. Such attempts can only cause the present or the future to bleed.
Ted Ehmann was born in Trenton, New Jersey. He is a lecturer of the social sciences and the humanities at the PGICA.org. in Punta Gorda, Florida. He has served as president of the Charlotte Harbor Anthropological Society in Charlotte County since 2018 and was founder of the Charlotte County Florida Historical Society in 2019.