By Tina Orlandini
This past weekend, March 22–24, a delegation of Take ‘Em Down NOLA comrades traveled to Jacksonville, Florida for the second annual Take ‘Em Down Everywhere international conference. This global grassroots movement is “a black-led, multiracial, international, intergenerational, inclusive coalition of organizers committed to the removal of ALL symbols of white supremacy from the public landscape as a part of the greater push for racial and economic justice and structural equity” (TakeEmDownEverywhere.org). Take ‘Em Down Everywhere was inaugurated last year in New Orleans, bringing together organizers from Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Trinidad & Tobago.
This year in Jacksonville, described by locals as “the city that time forgot,” organizers and allies spent the weekend sharing local history, exchanging organizing strategies, and hitting the streets. On Saturday, March 23, local historian Rodney Hurst led a bus tour of Jacksonville, visiting the birth place of James Weldon Johnson, author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (also referred to as the Black National Anthem); Hemming Plaza where the monument of the Confederate soldier stands (for now), along with a historical marker commemorating Youth Council sit-in’s at W.T. Grant Department Store and Woolworth’s Five and Ten Cent Store in 1960. Though this was not the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in Jacksonville, it signaled a turning point in local consciousness and was succeeded by further agitation that forced the integration of lunch counters, schools, parks, restrooms and other public facilities within the decade.
Later that day, Take ‘Em Down Jax, the Northside Coalition, and the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition organized a rally, beginning with a press conference at Confederate Park in front of the Women of the Confederacy monument, where they proposed an economic boycott of Jacksonville. Ben Frazier of Take ‘Em Down Jax and the Northside Coalition said to a cheering crowd, “it’s time for us to start telling people not to come to Jacksonville, Florida. Don’t come to Jacksonville because Jacksonville is a racist city which refuses to deal with these Confederate monuments.” The crowd of about 140 marched in Take ‘Em Down NOLA style formation to the International Brotherhood of Electoral Workers (IBEW) Union Hall for a panel discussion featuring Take ‘Em Down NOLA’s very own co-founder, Michael “Quess” Moore. Other panelists included Reverend Ron Rawls, Pastor of St. Augustine Church in Saint Augustine, a city 40 miles south of Jacksonville described by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964 as the most racist city in the United States. Maya Little of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s “Move Silent Sam” movement skyped into the panel and shared her account of the recent removal of the Silent Sam Confederate Soldier monument, current attempts to bring it back to campus, and ongoing intimidation she’s experiencing from local white supremacists and the police.
Following the panel, Take ‘Em Down organizers broke bread and continued to build at the Yellow House Art Gallery, described by director and Take ‘Em Down Jax member Hope McMath as a space where art and activism meet to create change.
On the final day of the conference, organizers from New Orleans and Jacksonville discussed specific successes and strategies to move forward the work of dismantling white supremacy, rooted in the South with eyes on the more than 1,500 white supremacist symbols littering the United States, and even more internationally. By the end of the conference, Take ‘Em Down Everywhere announced that next year’s convening will take place in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Take ‘Em Down NOLA delegation left Jacksonville with gratitude for Take ‘Em Down Jax and energized by this growing movement of working class organizers, teachers, historians, artists, faith based leaders and elders unified in the revolutionary struggle to end white supremacy everywhere.