Atop the tall stone obelisk rising up amidst downtown Jacksonville’s Hemming Park, the statue of a Confederate soldier stands at ease, his folded hands resting atop his musket. His expression blank, the rusting green metal face gazes emptily over the park, a sprawling brick square of fountains and Spanish oaks set snugly beneath the city’s financial buildings. The park is steeped in dark history, and even today, the atmosphere still resounds with echoes of its old racial tensions. Fifty-eight years ago, this was the site where a mob of Klansmen brutally and notoriously attacked civil rights activists performing a sit-in in protest of Jim Crow segregation. Last Sunday, January 30, those echoes resounded once again, as several hundred activists- followed closely by dozens of pro-Confederate counterprotesters- gathered to protest the statue of the soldier himself, a leftover remnant of the racial discrimination that they believe continues to haunt their city.
Under a pale overcast sky, the sun lost in a diffuse of white, protesters gathered in the parks central pavilion a little past 2 pm.
Fearful of violence similar to that witnessed in Charlottesville last August, Jacksonville police virtually locked down the area surrounding the park in preparation for the event: they shut down all surrounding city blocks, cordoning off all incoming streets. They patrolled the area with dozens of officers. And they separated opposing camps between two rows of bright, neon orange barricades. As people began to coalesce in the plaza, the police droned out every few minutes through the booming echo of an unseen megaphone: “The police respect ALL points of view! Please do not instigate violence!”
Amidst the raging storm of controversy that’s enveloped the movement to remove and recontextualize St. Augustine’s Confederate monuments, protesters both black and white- followed closely on their heels by Tea Party counterprotesters bearing bright red rebel flags- amassed for their latest demonstration in the cool evening twilight of Monday, January 22nd.
The protesters, led by black minister Rev. Ron Rawls, amassed along the Granada street sidewalk next to the Lightner Museum, where city officials inside discussed mounting pressures over recent months calling for a community-wide reconsideration of the monuments. Deploying the booming echo of their voices, the protesters had gathered outside the building to project their presence to the deliberating local politicians, who were hidden by tightly curtained windows within the museums forebidding stone walls. As the evening light failed and gave way to darkness, the anti-Confederate protesters swung into a chorus of chants deploring the monuments and the racism behind them, while on a corner down the street, the counterprotesters echoed back with periodic volleys of insults, their bright-red rebel flags luffing like soft sails in the breeze.
On the night Hurricane Irma made landfall over Florida, I sat in my living room, sweating in the darkness, listening to the raging of the wind outside.
The wind came in waves: vast, pulsating, hurricane force gales, some upwards of a hundred miles per hour, crashing, heaving, and receding over our house like long curling swells over a rock in the ocean. It was a palpable wind, its sound so immense that you almost felt you could feel it from within the house. Outside, one heard the periodic, brittle crack of trees as they heeled over under the blasting force of the wind. And when one peeked outside- as I did several times, against my better judgment- one saw there in the maelstrom a broken but unending river of debris, swept up ineluctably by the unceasing waves of wind. For a moment, standing there on the back porch, I watched as the storm-stricken landscape was briefly illuminated, its contours revealed as a transformer burst in the distance.
I returned to the living room, which after several hours without power had become ungodly hot, and waited there anxiously, beads of sweat congealing over my forehead, listening silently to the sounds of the night.
None of this scene would’ve been particularly disturbing were it not for a peculiar fact: we were far inland, sixty miles from where the damage was supposed to be at its most severe, and yet we were still feeling the effects of a storm so massive that its total volume engulfed the entire state of Florida.
Under the cold bluebird skies of last Monday, January 15th- Martin Luther King Day- St. Augustine demonstrators amassed in front of the squat brick walls of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, a traditionally black congregation, to celebrate the memory of a civil rights hero in a town where that hero was once hated.
Congealing along the sidewalk into an amoeba of people whose numbers eventually crested at two hundred, the demonstrators – people black and white as well as young and old – stood shivering under an armada of American flags, held aloft loosely in the soft morning wind, as they waited for the yearly procession to get underway: a route that would take them from the steps of the storied black church, where Dr. King once thundered in indignation against racism, to the downtown market square, where black slaves were once auctioned off like cattle and goats.
A little past 3 pm, in the midst of a coppery gold, cloudless North Florida winter afternoon on January 15, 2018, protesters gathered on the rural road facing the remote Lake Butler Correctional Facility. They came together to speak out against mass incarceration in America and the unpaid “slave” labor of convicts, and to show solidarity with the prisoners inside, who were then participating in a statewide, daylong labor strike.
The protesters – a group of former convicts, veterans, union activists and distraught mothers – coalesced into a noisy caravan as they left their cars along the roadside, and marched back and in front of the facility, where state laws permitted them the right to assemble. (Within prison property, protesting is proscribed as an illegal offense).
Beating makeshift drums, blowing into trumpets and carrying signs, the stream of protesters led a rising chorus of chants:
“Brick by brick! Wall by wall! This prison slave camp has to fall!’
Three years ago, when Hasani Malone first set foot on Flagler College to kickstart her career as a journalist, she knew from the outset that something about the school was off.
Hasani had spent the majority of her life in Atlanta, where growing up, she was enveloped in a largely African American community. Now, she was one of the few black students in the nearly uniformly white, liberal, upper-middle class mass of Flagler’s student body. And though many students treated her nicely, the feeling of cultural listlessness- that depressing sense, however diluted, of having been dropped in a foreign country without knowing the language- was nonetheless acute. Continue reading “Hasani Malone on being a black activist in the “Post-Racial” Era”
Arundhati Roy’s Walking with the Comrades, a breathtaking journalistic journey into the world of India’s indigenous Naxalite guerrillas, doesn’t open with a primer on Maoist ideology or the corruption of the Indian State. Veering clear of that kind of dry introduction, the effervescent Roy—a Booker Prize-winning novelist who has spoken about the inability of non-fiction to convey truth in the way fictive storytelling can—instead opens up her expose with a vignette. No one can say whether it’s true: though I would argue it doesn’t matter. In four pages of lucid prose, she relates a scene whose imprint resonates like a haunting note throughout the volume’s entirety, and whose essence is the seed of the injustice she attacks.