Mayor Donna Deegan made an overtly racist comment in a meeting with three people who are seeking to ease race relations in the city.
The three men sent her a letter and they shared copies of it with members of the City Council at last night’s council meeting.
Gordon Terry, Pat Geer and Blake Harper of The Unity Project met with the mayor Aug.23 to talk about the project’s objectives and recommendations for resolving the controversy that surrounds the removal of Jacksonville’s historic monuments.
The letter said, “Our foundational belief is that our nation’s historical monuments and cultural artifacts represent a valuable anchor to the past that allows Americans to recall and reflect upon important events in our nation’s history from which they can draw meaning and understanding.”
They said they found Deegan adamant and unwilling to consider any option other than the removal of the Women of the Southland memorial from Springfield Park.
But one of the most disturbing parts of the conversation was Deegan’s assertion that “three white men”, could not possibly understand this issue.
“It was jarring,” they said.
Why would she highlight the color of their skin? And the implication was that she can understand the issue better, despite the fact that she also has white skin.
Harper said they explained to her “The Fuller Story” project undertaken by the residents of Franklin, Tenn., which they think illustrates what can happen when a group of diverse community leaders join together in a process that allows for thoughtful and constructive engagement.
Franklin was able to successfully contextualize its memorials with the addition of historic markers that addressed slavery and by creating a monument to the 170,000 freedmen and former slaves – known as the United States Colored Troops – who fought to preserve the union.
Ultimately, the citizens of Franklin opted for more history, not less, the letter said.
The advocates for unity told Deegan the objectives of the Unity Project are supported by a majority of Jacksonville’s citizens.
“During your term as mayor of Jacksonville you will likely encounter a number of ‘white men’ who do not think as you do. To dismiss their views out of hand because of their race is not the stuff of good governance,” the letter said.
Rebuffing people who are seeking to resolve a controversy and throwing their race into the conversation conflicts with Deegan’s pledge to represent all Jacksonville citizens.