Jacksonville, FL (August 11, 2020) – City Council Members faced an unforeseen challenge as legislation 2020-357 was nearing the end of the legislation cycle and was up for a vote in committees the week of August 3rd.
The purpose of Bill 2020-357 is to propose a name change for the downtown landmark that sits right outside City Hall’s front doors in District 7 – Hemming Park. Council Member Dennis introduced the legislation to rename the well-known landmark to James Weldon Johnson Park
James Weldon Johnson was a Jacksonville native who became one of the most well-known and accomplished residents in the city. According to bill summary, he was distinguished author, diplomat, and lawyer. The Johnson family lived in the downtown area, a short distance from Hemming Park. James Weldon Johnson’s accomplishments include the composition of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ with his brother Rosamond Johnson. The song was initially performed on February 12, 1900, with 500 students, at Stanton School to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Due to its popularity, the song would later be adopted and promoted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as the “Negro National Anthem.” Mr. Johnson was a prominent voice in various public capacities, a profound educator, and a diplomatic civil rights leader. Under President Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Johnson was appointed United States Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua.”
The 1.54-acre park is the oldest in the city and located in the heart of downtown which can easily be accessed from Hogan Street, Laura Street, Duval Street, or Monroe Street, any of the four streets that run along the park’s square perimeter.
The bill was introduced and assigned to the NCSPHS Committee on June 23rd. During the zoom committee meeting on August 3rd, the bill was up for discussion and committee vote, which Councilman Becton then proposed a substitute for 2020-357, offering the alternative recommendation to rename the park to “Veterans Memorial Park” instead.
Councilman Becton stated that he opposed any change for parks or buildings at this time from a “name-to-name” because of the times that we are in for which renaming public assets has become controversial at best. In addition, any renaming of parks and building assets lacked a defined process of thorough review, which similar actions like streets typically require. During the Monday morning, committee meeting he explained the following:
“I am against at this time to Support a Name to a Name Change. As there is no “process” to vet a name change. If we change a road name, designate historical buildings, demolish a building, there are processes to vet the new name and research the context for what is being proposed.
This is a slippery slope… as there is no one on the committee or council that “is without sin”, to sit in judgement on someone and how their lives at the time when actions are perceived as normal are now judged, to void out their entire life contributions and events. Therefore, I will not for the foreseeable future support a Name to a Name change designation.
I will offer a substitute to allow for an alternative Option to be considered and that is to a name the park, “Veterans Memorial Park”.
This idea is not a name and is supported by many organizations and groups including:
– Veterans Council of Duval City,
– Vietnam Veterans of America
– Rotary Club of North Jacksonville
We recently installed the flags of the various armed services departments in honoring and establishing this park as such. It is our City Jacksonville front door that many veterans getting services, enter City Hall, in front of this area.
I have also vetted this with the Administration and the Veterans Affairs Office who finds, “no Issues, with this option and think this would be a very appropriate name’. Therefore, I am offering this option as an alternative.”
Council Member and NCSPHS Chair Randy White deferred the bill after he himself and several other Council Member discussed the request to finding a solution that all Council Members can agree rather than continue on the uncomfortable path they were on.
The following Tuesday, during the August 11th City Council meeting, the legislation was discharged from committee and put on the addendum to be discussed. In the discussion, another alternative was introduced by Council Member Diamond for which he had hoped with be a compromise for the two options presented. Council Member Diamond proposed the use of both names for the public space, which would name the park itself James Weldon Johnson Park and designate the specific area in the park where the United States Flags are flown across from City Hall as Veterans Memorial Plaza. Despite Council Members Diamond’s best efforts to propose a solution that supported both names, the proposed amendment failed.
After more discussion, the legislation to name the park James Weldon Johnson Park was approved by council with 16 votes. Councilman Becton and Councilman White stood by their original opposition of not agreeing to any name to a name change and did not vote for the bill.
To read more about the renaming of the park, visit: