A century-old monument honoring the women of the Confederacy was removed from a Florida park on Wednesday, sparking accusations that the city’s mayor was overstepping her authority.
Nick Howland, a Republican who sits on Jacksonville’s City Council, called Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan’s actions to remove the “Women of the Southland” statue from Springfield Park, formally Confederate Park, a “blatant overreach” and an abuse of power.
“Deegan is our Mayor, not our Monarch,” he wrote Wednesday on X. “Waiting until nightfall before taking a backhoe to the Women of the South monument is blatant overreach. This was Council’s decision to make. Regardless of your opinion of the monument, this is abuse of power & disregard for transparency.”
In a statement, Deegan, a Democrat, said the monument honoring women of the Confederacy was being removed with funding made through a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and anonymous donations made to 904WARD, a local racial justice group.
The memorial was erected in the early 20th century as part of a widespread campaign to promote and justify Jim Crow laws in the South and intimidate African Americans, she said. In 2020, the city renamed the park from Confederate Park to Springfield Park “amid protests ignited by the City and the nation’s call for change on racism,” according to the city’s website.
The 41-foot-tall memorial features a mother embracing her two children at the top with a plaque that reads: “Let this mute but eloquent structure speak to generations to come of a generation of the past. Let it repeat perpetually the imperishable story of our women of the ’60s, those noble women who sacrificed their all upon their country’s altar.”
“Symbols matter. They tell the world what we stand for and what we aspire to be,” Deegan said in a statement. “By removing the confederate monument from Springfield Park, we signal a belief in our shared humanity. That we are all created equal. The same flesh and bones. The same blood running through our veins. The same heart and soul.”
In addition to the monument, the plaques and engravings are being removed and will be covered with temporary plaques. The cost of the work is $187,000 as part of an agreement between 904WARD and ACON Construction, the mayor’s office said.
Jacksonville’s General Counsel, Michael Fackler, said Deegan has the executive authority to order the removal because City Council approval was unnecessary since it was being done with private funds.
“Our legal analysis finds that Mayor Deegan has the authority as executive of the City — and because city funds are not being utilized — to control the property, the park, and the monument,” Fackler said.
After her election, Deegan promised to remove the statue but was unsuccessful in getting the City Council to go along with the plan. Last month, a Republican state representative introduced a measure to fine local officials who vote to remove historical monuments, The Washington Post reported.
In endorsing Wednesday’s move, 904WARD said such monuments “often serve as painful reminders of a divisive past and contribute to a climate that perpetuates inequality.”
Florida state Rep. Dean Black, a Republican, said the statue’s removal was an example of cancel culture gone too far.
“This action, undertaken in the middle of the night, during the holidays, without consultation of city leaders or a vote by the council, is another in a long line of woke Democrats’ obsession with Cancel Culture and tearing down history,” he said in a statement. “Choosing to erase our history is not ‘brave’ — it is a cowardly act done by a lawless Mayor who hides under the cover of night!”
Deegan argued the removal isn’t an attempt to erase history but to “show that we’ve learned from it.”
“That when we know better, we do better by and for each other,” she said. “My prayer today is for our beautiful city to continue embracing unity and bending the arc of history towards justice. Let’s keep lifting as we climb.”