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James Weldon Johnson Park is located across from City Hall in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. On August 11, 2020 City Council passed a bill (2020-0357-E) renaming Hemming Plaza to James Weldon Johnson Park. The park is now named after a famous civil rights activist (who combated racism through his position in the NAACP), lawyer, educator and composer from Jacksonville who wrote “Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing commonly known as the Black National Anthem. City Councilmembers Garrett Dennis and Rory Diamond introduced the legislation and after many debates the bill passed. Councilmember Dennis felt that changing the name to James Weldon Johnson would represent progress and would bring even more light to Jacksonville.
Furthermore, first established as a public square by the City’s founder Isaiah D. Hart around 1857, it is Jacksonville’s oldest park. Known first as City Park and then St. James Park, it was renamed Hemming Park in 1899 to honor Civil War veteran Charles C. Hemming who donated the parks’ confederate monument (the City’s oldest and tallest) the previous year. In June 2020, the monument has since been removed. At various times, the park contained bandstands, fountains, comfort stations, and Tourist and Convention Bureau buildings, along with many beautiful trees. In 1978, the City converted the park into a brick-paved plaza, and completed additional work in 1986 that transformed the area into a single-level, pedestrian-oriented mall. Due to its centralized location, the plaza has long been a park of the downtown experiences for both tourists and local citizens.