Black councilwoman sets precedent

She attends Confederate memorial
By David Bauerlein, The Times-Union

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Glorious Johnson admires Abraham Lincoln and the Confederate Flag.

On Sunday, the African-American councilwoman joined the Southern side of the Civil War when she lead a local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans singing I Wish I Was in Dixie in honor of Confederate soldiers.

Her appearance marked the first time an African-American council member has come to the annual memorial event at the Old City Cemetery near downtown.

It wasn’t an entirely new venue for Johnson, who is considering a future run for mayor. She also has attended the Jackson-Lee Dinner put on by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Kirby-Smith Camp of the organization invited Johnson, a former music teacher, to lead I Wish I Was in Dixie at the event Sunday. The song became a favorite anthem of Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

"Let’s sing loud and let’s sing proud," Johnson told the group.

Behind her, Confederate flags rippled in the breeze at graves where the Kirby-Smith Camp says 40 Confederate soldiers are buried. Tending to such graves is part of the mission for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

During the ceremony, Johnson joined about 60 others who pledged allegiance to the United States flag and then said a "salute to the Confederate Flag."

The Confederate flag has been controversial, particularly when elements of it have been used in state flags. The Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked Florida to sell specialty license plates with the Confederate Flag on them.

Johnson said in an interview after the ceremony she doesn’t view the Confederate flag as a racist symbol. She said by talking with members of the organization, she has learned more about the Civil War.

"This flag is not a flag of hate, but a flag about heritage and history," she said. "The people out here are not about hate, but about heritage."

Johnson, a Republican, cites Lincoln as a fellow member of the GOP. She said Lincoln deserves credit for signing the Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery, though she said Lincoln did so partly because freed slaves would give the Union forces more military recruits.

She said debates about whether schools should be named after Confederate leaders cause divisions in the community when the city needs to come together to tackle problems such as the high murder rate.

"How can we heal when we unearth things and open wounds that had been healing?" she said.

Isaiah Rumlin, president of the Jacksonville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Johnson "is an elected official who can say anything she wants to under freedom of speech. She can do what she wants to do. If she feels like she is doing the right thing, she has to deal with that."

Juan Gray, board chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition’s Jacksonville chapter, said Johnson told him before the event that she would be attending the Confederate memorial event. Gray said Johnson told her it was part of her mission to be a "representative off all the people."

"If there’s a way for Councilwoman Johnson to create some dialogue, that’s fine with me," Gray said. "After they sing I Wish I Was in Dixie, I hope they would help solve some of the problems in Jacksonville, which is in ‘Dixie.’ "

© Copyright The Florida Times-Union.


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