The Confederate Soldiers Memorial in Hemming Park
"An Open letter to the city of Jacksonville: We demand that public spaces not be used to uphold symbols of white supremacy" (TakeEmDownJax). The Confederate Soldiers Memorial in Hemming Park is located in front of City Hall in Jacksonville Florida. The memorial is a large sixty-foot-tall granite column, topped with a bronze confederate soldier. The soldier is “in winter uniform, standing at ease, with his gun resting on the ground,” (Cunningham p110). The soldier has the initials of the Jackson Light Infantry on his hat. Along the base of the large column are four bronze plaques- facing north is the bust of Florida born confederate General, General Kirby Smith, on the west side are the words “Our Heroes” accompanied with a scene featuring General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson with their drum crops, the south facing plaque has the bust of the commander of the United Confederate Veteran’s Florida Division, General JJ Dickinson, and the phrase “Tried and True”. The final east facing plaque contains an inscription, widely accredited to Charles Hemming, which reads “TO THE SOLDIERS OF FLORIDA This shaft is by a comrade raised in testimony of his love, recalling deeds immortal, heroism unsurpassed. With ranks unbroken, ragged. starved, and decimated, the Southern soldier for duty’s sake, undaunted, stood to the front of battle until no light remained to illumine the field of carnage, save the luster of his chivalry and courage. Nor shall your glory be forgot, While fame her record keeps. CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL 1861-1865”
Backstory and Context
Hemming had the monument made to memorialize the soldiers and sailors from Florida who served in the Civil war Charles Hemming was a Florida born confederate soldier. After the war, in 1898, he donated this monument to Jacksonville, where he grew up, and had it placed in St James Park in front of City Hall. A year later the park was renamed to honor him, and it is now known as Hemming Park.
“No intelligent and well-informed person of the present day, whose mind is not imbued with fanatical teachings, believes that the Confederates were traitors… No people ever espoused a cause, or went forth to battle in defense of home and country, with a clearer conscience of right in the discharge of duty,” (Brock p114). This was the opening speech at the unveiling ceremony of the monument in 1898. The ceremony was filled with northern and southern soldiers who were stationed in Jacksonville waiting to go fight in the Spanish-American War. The theme of the day was unity between the north and south, and the honor of each. Hemming did not attend, but had a former Confederate Colonel and US Congressman Robert Hamilton McWhorta Davisdson speak on his behalf, “… remember that every monument erected to Confederate soldiers is a reminder of the skill and bravery of the Northern soldiers, who triumphed over courage and heroism unsurpassed ... We are not a divided people ... the Union has been and is forever restored.” There were speeches after speeches, pageants, bands, and singing (Soergel). This day was the embodiment of the Lost Cause, "The war was remembered as primarily a tragedy that led to greater unity and national cohesion, and as a solder’s call to sacrifice in order to save a troubled, but essentially good union, not as the crisis of a nation deeply divided over slavery, race, competing definitions of labor, liberty, political economy, and the future of the West…"(Blight). The deeply embedded ideals of the Lost Cause are the center of the arguments to keep the monument. Those in support feel that the monument represents the unity and bravery of the Florida Soldiers, not a symbol of slavery and oppression.
In 1901 “The Great Fire” destroyed almost all of Jacksonville’s core, leaving the Hemming monument as the lone standing structure (Jacksonville). Hemming Park later installed a plaque to commemorate those lost and highlight the symbolism of the Hemming monument, “...the park and its renowned live oaks were devoured by the flames and only the Confederate Monument survived, its base glowing red from heat…” The fire has become a large factor in the fight to keep the monument; It created another excuse to defend it. Arguers now strongly justify the statue by saying it is a symbol of their town's strength and the historical pillar of their perseverance through adversity.
In 2016, the call to remove the monument became louder. TakeEmDownJax formed a group and movement aimed at removing all confederate monuments from Jacksonville Florida. They wrote an open letter to the city with demands of the many confederate monuments they wanted taken out of public spaces, "These memorials only serve as a constant reminder of the past and present oppression of the black community by the rich, white ruling class," (TakeEmDownJax). When the city refused to remove it, the monument began being vandalized with red spray paint and the words “KKK” and “Free Slaves”. Rallies and marches were held in the park in protest of the monuments accompanied with the Jacksonville Peace Keepers During this time, a group of volunteers created the Community Remembrance Project aimed at recognizing the real history of Jacksonville. They proposed a plan to install a memorial alongside the sixty-foot monument. The new installation would be a pillar bearing the names of the seven documented lynching victims in Duval County. The plan was proposed by the former City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche. The council voted 14 to 0 to withdrawal the plan without so much as a discussion. They did so with the justification that they would not address bills from members who would be leaving office the next month, which Brosche was. "[Brosche] said the council’s decision to withdraw the legislation without seeking her input — let alone debating or voting on it — is a sign it lacked enough support to pass. 'It is what it is. It’s unfortunate that this is indicative of how the city of Jacksonville has addressed its racial issues since its inception'" (Hong).
About Us, Hemming Park. Accessed November 19th 2019. http://hemmingpark.org/about/.
Hong, C. (2017, Sep 06). Confederate monuments in hemming park, springfield defaced with red spray paint. TCA Regional News Retrieved from http://www2.lib.ku.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.www2.lib.ku.edu/docview/1935964884?accountid=14556
David Blight, “A Quarrel Forgotten or a Revolution Remembered: Reunion and Race in the Memory of the Civil War.” In Blight, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War. University of Massachusetts Press, 2002. P. 120-152
Brock, R. A. (1899). Southern Historical Society Papers: July, 1877 (classic reprint) [2016-12-30 02:59 UTC] (Vol. 27-28). Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433079010215
Cunningham, S. A. (Ed.). (1899, January). Hemming Monument For Florida. Confederate Veteran, VII, 110. Retrieved from https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044035882273&view=1up&seq=116
Davis, E. (2009, October 20). The Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Retrieved October 31, 2019, from https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-oct-the-great-jacksonville-fire-of-1901.
Hong, C. (2019, June 11). Jacksonville City Council abandons plan for lynching memorial in Hemming Park. Retrieved October 31, 2019, from https://www.jacksonville.com/news/20190611/jacksonville-city-council-abandons-plan-for-lynching-memorial-in-hemming-park.
Pantazi, A. (2018, December 23). Jacksonville on the cusp of becoming minority-majority city. Retrieved October 31, 2019, from https://apnews.com/c1d778916e6a42efad2c1247d806cce6.
Ross, M. (2018, May 15). Organizers Plan Thursday March Against Confederacy Statues From Jacksonville To St. Augustine. Retrieved October 31, 2019, from https://news.wjct.org/post/organizers-plan-thursday-march-against-confederacy-statues-jacksonville-st-augustine.
Soergel, M. (2017, Aug 31). Hemming's confederate monument in 1898: A band, a parade, and soldiers in blue and gray. TCA Regional News Retrieved from http://www2.lib.ku.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.www2.lib.ku.edu/docview/1933751058?accountid=14556
The Jacksonville Historical Society. (2019). The Great Fire of 1901. Retrieved October 31, 2019, from http://www.jaxhistory.org/great-fire-1901/.