I recently wrote that City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche wimped out when she refused to set up a public debate before council on JaxPort’s proposed deep dredge of the St. Johns River shipping channel.
My hope is she doesn’t do the same thing with the controversy she helped ignite when she called for a public discussion about removing Confederate monuments from public property after Charlottesville happened.
The subject is too important to let wither just because there are strong emotions on both sides.
Brosche had asked for an inventory of Confederate monuments on public property as a first step. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department provided one, and there are only three.
There’s the monument honoring the women of the Confederacy in Confederate Park in Springfield. Another is in the Old City Cemetery. The one that is the most problematic is the 62-foot statue of a Confederate soldier in the middle of Hemming Park in front of City Hall.
Those who want the statue to remain there argue that removing it would be an attempt to erase our history.
The exact opposite is true. Rather than erasing history, the effort should focus on making sure that history is told in full.
I previously suggested moving the statue to Confederate Park and making that the place where Jacksonville’s rich history unfolds.
We could start with the Civil War, since that’s the topic of the day, the reasons it was fought, the stories of not only the Confederates but also the Unionists who lived here and the impact of the war on Jacksonville.
The stories told there would have to include the savagery of slavery and must not stop at the end of that war.
What followed still impacts us today: the Jim Crow laws that stifled the successes newly freed African-Americans were making as Reconstruction began, the years of segregation, the hangings, the denial of voting rights, the redlining of neighborhoods to keep blacks out.
The history of Jacksonville that grew out of the Civil War and the years that followed is complex. And a solitary statue in Hemming Park honoring a Confederate soldier who fought in the “Lost Cause” doesn’t do that history justice.
I had also suggested changing the name of Confederate Park to Jacksonville’s History Park. A friend offered a better name — Heritage Park.
There we could also tell the story of the Timucuan Indians who preceded us, the arrival of the French explorers, the Great Fire of 1901, the Yellow Fever Epidemic, the city’s roles in World War I and World War II, the movie industry that flourished here, our shipbuilding past, our consolidated government and the notable people — black and white — who have called Jacksonville home.
From Heritage Park, people could be directed to visit firsthand historic sites like Camp Milton, Fort Caroline, Norman Studios and Kingsley Plantation.
This effort wouldn’t erase history. It would tell the city’s full history, and you only learn from history if that is done.
After only two years on the council, Brosche asked for the leadership role she is in when she challenged and defeated City Councilman John Crescimbeni, who traditionally would have moved into the presidency after serving as council vice president.
In doing that, Brosche created a split on the council that remains raw. And in calling for the discussion on Confederate monuments, she ensured lengthy council meetings where emotions run high during public comment periods.
But true leaders find ways to bring people together and to create something good out of discord. Establishing a place to tell the city’s full, rich history would be such an outcome.
Brosche wanted to be the leader of City Council.
Well, City Council President Brosche, lead.
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