Image courtesy of Hope McMath.
Apparently in support of the initiative to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriett Tubman on the $20 bill, folks here in Old Hickory’s Town have been covering images of Jackson with stickers bearing Tubman’s likeness on manhole covers. It should be noted that the City of Jacksonville really wants it to stop, and has sent a cease and desist notice to local activist Hope McMath, who had posted about the project on Facebook.
That said, the city government hasn’t exactly done a stellar job with public art lately. It avoided confronting the Confederate monuments issue and recently abandoned plans for a memorial to lynching victims. So maybe it’s time for the local arts community to shake things up.
We’re certainly not encouraging anyone to sticker public property, but for any art taking on local issues, local subjects wouldn’t hurt. For artists who just can’t resist the muse, here are five figures with Jacksonville connections worthy of joining Harriett Tubman.
1: Saturiwa Image courtesy of the University of South Florida.
Saturiwa, the paramount chief of the Mocama people who lived around the mouth of the St. Johns River, led a resistance against the Spanish colony of St. Augustine that lasted through the 1560s and 70s. His chiefdom, also known as Saturiwa, included thirty towns spread from the coast toward present-day Downtown Jacksonville. He maintained friendly relations with the French at Fort Caroline until the Spanish pushed them out in 1565. Subsequently, Saturiwa forged a coalition with several other chiefdoms to oppose the Spanish and their native allies, the Utina chiefdom. In 1568 he joined French soldier Dominique de Gourgue in a retaliatory attack against the captured Fort Caroline. It isn’t known when Saturiwa died, but his people continued to resist St. Augustine through the 1570s before they finally submitted to the Spanish mission system in 1588.
As an artistic subject, Saturiwa is perfect because he was depicted in a series of engravings by Theodorus De Bry, which were said to have been copied from paintings by Jacques Le Moyne, the official artist of Fort Caroline. While they’re full of inaccuracies, aesthetically, they look pretty boss.
2: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Harriet Beecher Stowe is known for writing the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which galvanized the anti-slavery movement in the years prior to the Civil War. In 1867, during Reconstruction, Stowe purchased property in the Jacksonville area with the goal of helping educate and uplift newly freed African Americans. While residing in Mandarin, she sponsored churches and the Mandarin School, which taught black and white citizens alike. She also wrote several more works, including a travel book about Florida, Palmetto Leaves. The Mandarin School building still stands as the Mandarin Community Club.
There are many existing photographs of Stowe, and she was full of great quotes like, “It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.” Think of how many inspiring Instagram posts art with that quote would get, likely with some catchy hashtags like #inspiration, #getupstandup, or #girlbosslife. Or different ones, I don’t really know Instagram (editor’s note: follow The Jaxson on Instagram!)
3: James Weldon Johnson Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
James Weldon Johnson is, without exaggeration, the single most accomplished person ever to come from Jacksonville or Florida. Among other things, the LaVilla native was an author; Florida’s first African American lawyer after Reconstruction; the principal of Stanton, which he converted into Florida’s first black public high school; a U.S. Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua; the first African-American head of the NAACP; and a respected university professor. His literary output includes the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”, put to music by his brother J. Rosamond Johnson; the groundbreaking novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and the poetry collection God’s Trombones. He was a major force in the early civil rights movement and the Harlem Renaissance.
No single Jaxson is more deserving of a public monument than Johnson, and as that hasn’t happened yet, street art would be a good start. Imagine something with Johnson’s dignified visage along with a quote from God’s Trombones or “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” There’s plenty of inspiration to go around, Johnson has been the subject of art before, and his song inspired a temporary sculpture by Augusta Savage back in 1939, which sadly was never made into a permanent version. Of course, street artists know that art doesn’t have to be permanent to make an impact - just ask Keith Haring’s Ghost.
4. Eartha White Eartha White and her mother Clara White. Image courtesy of Florida Memory.
Born in 1876 to former slaves, Eartha M.M. White was well known across the Jacksonville area as a philanthropist, humanitarian, and businessperson, who provided the poor with needed services the city would not. She founded the first school for African-Americans in Bayard, and taught there and at Stanton High School. She formed the Colored Citizens Protective League and joined protests against unfair employment practices, and helped start several relief and medical organizations, most notably working with her mother to expand the Clara White Mission, a social services non-profit and meal center that still operates in LaVilla.
5: A. Philip Randolph
Raised on Jacksonville’s Eastside, Asa Philip Randolph was a born rebel. His radical early writings and protests led the government to dub him the most dangerous African-American in the country. He emerged as major force in the early civil rights and labor movement and founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union. He was instrumental in the movement that ended hiring discrimination and segregation in the U.S. military in the 1940s. Never one to rest on his laurels, he and Bayard Rustin organized Martin Luther King’s March on Washington in 1963.
Randolph’s story makes him the perfect subject for street art. One of his most famous quotes goes, “Justice is never given; it is exacted and the struggle must be continuous for freedom is never a final fact, but a continuing evolving process to higher and higher levels of human, social, economic, political and religious relationship.” Seriously, picture Randolph’s face, Shepard Fairey style, surrounded by the words “justice is never given, it is exacted.” The art basically creates itself.
Article by Bill Delaney. Contact Bill at email@example.com.