Jacksonville’s Bicentennial Reflection: The Past and its Present Fight for Rights and Freedom

Prosperity and equity are two of the most important lessons we can learn from history. Prosperity tells us that through hard work, determination, and innovation, any society can achieve great things. It is a story of human achievement against all odds. On the other hand, equity reminds us that prosperity is not evenly distributed, and that some groups have consistently been disadvantaged throughout history. If we want to create a more just and prosperous future, we need to learn from both the successes and failures of the past. Only by understanding history can we hope to create a better future for all.

Jacksonville Celebrates 200 Years

Jacksonville was founded in 1822, and over the past 200 years, it has seen many changes. The city has grown from a small town to a large metropolis, and its population has diversified. Jacksonville is now home to people from all over the world, and its culture has been enriched by their presence. The city has also undergone significant changes in its appearance. Jacksonville’s skyline is now dotted with high-rise buildings, and its streets are being prepared for autonomous transit service by 2025

On June 11, 2022, the city took a moment to reflect on its long history.  The celebration included art vendors and displays, speeches and tributes, live music and fireworks.  

Historical walking tours by AdLib Tours and a group of character actors called the Imposters offered festival goers an opportunity to learn about the city’s history in an interactive manner.

Photos of The Imposters (above) and AdLib Walking Tours posing as Isaiah Hart, one of the founders of Jacksonville, (Left) taken by Mix Theory Studios.

Character actors greeted celebration goers with 1822 costumes and theatrics to illustrate the fashion and demeanor of early city settlers. People were able to participate in group walking tours throughout the afternoon.

An Active Art Community

The local art community through the Art Center Cooperative and Jacksonville Artist Guild presented “Jacksonville Past and Present” fine art exhibition, which was sponsored by Farah & Farah, and the “VyStar Kidz Wall,” sponsored by VyStar Credit Union, at the Jacksonville Public Library. The street festival also included street artists and realtime art creation with CIL Jacksonville. Ron Episcopo, a local artist, volunteered to coordinate the local art community’s efforts for the bicentennial celebration.

I really do believe Jacksonville has so much to offer, especially to the arts. It’s one of the reasons we moved here is the arts community.

Ron Episcopo, JAX Art 200 Chair

A Solid Military Presence

Jacksonville is home to six military installations. From Naval Air Station Jacksonville to Naval Station Mayport, these installations provide over 97,000 jobs, $4 billion in direct defense spending and almost $5 billion in consumption, according to the 2020 Florida Defense FactBook. Factoring in all of the related county-wide impacts from the military spending, it equates to over $12 billion or 17% of Duvall’s overall economy.

The newest museum that came to Jacksonville in 2022 is the Jacksonville Naval Museum. The USS Orleck docked in front of the Hyatt Regency downtown in March 2022 and is scheduled to open to the public in July.

According to the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association press release, “The Jacksonville Naval Museum will honor past generations of Veterans and inspire future Patriots through STEM plus history and arts education opportunities. The museum will serve as a gathering place for naval associations, ship crew reunions, and military conventions while supporting Veterans as a local resource and networking center. Future initiatives can include overnight stays onboard the ship from youth groups, a Tall Ships Festival or Navy Fleet Week, and other themed events all to activate the riverfront.”

Current Day Political Strife

Culture wars have been raging in America for decades, and they shows no signs of slowing down. In recent years, Florida has become a major battleground in the fight for equality. Protests have been held in cities across the state to demand equal rights for all, particularly in light of controversial legislation being passed by Governor Ron DeSantis. These bills include the Parental Rights in Education Bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, the Individual Freedom law, banning educators from teaching topics such as Critical Race Theory, and most recently a ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Jacksonville’s bicentennial celebration was not spared from civil protests. The Black community and its organizations felts that their voices were underrepresented in the preparation and organization of the day’s events. This sentiment sparked protestors to call for the removal of local Confederate statues. However, the resolution was voted down by City Council in June.

June 11th protests were held in front of City Hall. Protesters were calling for the removal of Confederate statues that symbolize racism in Jacksonville.
Statue of General Andrew Jackson, who led military actions against the Seminoles, who were sheltering escaped slaves from Mississippi and Georgia. Three years later, he was named the Federal Military Commissioner of Florida after Spain transferred power over the Florida territory to America.

The Collective Perspective Podcast hosted a live event at Underbelly in downtown Jacksonville to discuss racial equity on Jacksonville’s 200th birthday. check out the live stream on MTSJAX.FM. #fyp #foryou #racialequality #confederatestatue #jacksonville #podcast #criticalracetheory #intellectualhumility #904 #mixtheorystudios #ilovemtsjax #truth @jefejax72 @iamtatianayoguez @therealdjpm

♬ original sound – MTSJAX
On June 15, 2022, the Collective Perspective Podcast, a MTS Original, held a Race Card discussion as part of the 904WARD’s 200 Conversations for 200 years initiative. This episode was released as its Season 1 Finale Episode 21, “Coming Together from the Heart LIVE”.

It would be naïve to say that protests are anything new. They have been a part of human society since its inception, serving as a way to voice discontent and rally people together for change. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence in protests, particularly in the wake of high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men and the recent revocation of the court ruling Roe versus Wade by the Supreme Court in June.

These protests have been catalyzed by the rise of social media, which has allowed people to quickly and easily share news and information. The result has been a more interconnected and engaged world, one that is more likely to come together in the face of injustice.

As more and more people become aware of the issues facing their communities, they are also becoming more empowered to demand change. In many ways, the current wave of protests is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement, when Americans banded together to demand equality and justice.

June was Pride Month, and the Jacksonville LGBTQ+ community was represented at the bicentennial’s celebration event. Listen to JAXTAPOSE Season 1 Episode 11 “Inclusion for a Proud JAX Community.”

Today is the Fourth of July, a day longheld for celebration in the United States. Every year, Americans come together to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which marked the country’s break from British rule. However, the holiday has taken on a new meaning for many people and has become a day for some to reflect on the ongoing struggle for equal rights in America.

As protests against racial injustice continue to sweep the nation, some see the holiday as an opportunity to recommit to the fight for equality. Others believe that celebrating the Fourth of July is a way of honoring America’s history and its promise of liberty and justice for all. No matter what perspective one takes, there is no doubt that the Fourth of July remains a significant date in the American calendar.

And, as the culture wars continue to divide the country, Florida will surely remain at the forefront of these social justice debates. Throughout the rest of 2022, it is important to consider both the past and present of Jacksonville. As citizens, we have an obligation to honor human rights, to protect personal freedoms, and to make better choices for a future that benefits the prosperity and equity of all.

Want to learn more about Jacksonville? Check out the JAXTAPOSE podcast, an MTS Original.