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!”