JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The City of Jacksonville officially broke ground at the Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing Park - marking the first phase of revitalization in the LaVilla neighborhood.
The park, located by Lee Street, and right near the new JTA headquarters, is currently just an empty lot filled by grass and four memorial markers. The park is the location of where James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, were born. The two were responsible for creating the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”. The song debut during a performance by the Stanton High School choir in 1900 for the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
“The vision of this park and several projects and partnerships working together is focused on revitalizing this historic neighborhood while recognizing its cultural importance,” Mayor Lenny Curry announced at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Lloyd Washington, president of the Durkeeville Historical Society, said he’s been working on this project and revitalizing the LaVilla neighborhood for 12 years.
“LaVilla has been dormant for a long time. In my travels, I’ve learned that people know about the brothers, Johnson, and their contribution,” Washington said. “People know more about Jacksonville history than we do, so that needs to change. I would like to see the whole LaVilla come to life and have a voice of its own.”
The groundbreaking was an unusual one. Instead of actually breaking the ground, the City instead unveiled the first tree that will be planted at the park.
“The tree has long been a powerful symbol of growth, resurrection and transformation. There’s no more fitting way to honor the future of this community space and with a tree that will eventually be planted, spread roots and thrive on this historic site,” Mari Kuraishi, President of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.
The first phase of construction will begin this Spring through construction on Lee Street that will connect the park to the Emerald Trail.
The final designs of the park are expected to be completed by this summer and after bidding for a contractor, construction is scheduled to finish by fall of 2022. The preliminary costs for designs and construction will be approximately $2-3 million. The Jessie Ball DuPont fund and Chartrand family announced they would each give $1 million to the help with the construction. TIAA Bank is also donating half a million dollars to this project. Some of the money from the Chartrand family will go towards the commission of Augusta Savage’s renowned statue “Lift Every Voice and Sing (The Harp)”.
“There is a reason why La Villa used to be called the Harlem of the South. This was an incredibly creative, vibrant community. And, you know, for a number of different reasons, it’s sort of empty, as you can see,” Kuraishi said. “And the idea that we can bring that at least that memory of that vibrancy and the creativity and possibly recreate that in the present day is just so appealing and such an amazing prospect. And I feel like this groundbreaking is the first step for that.”
Right now, the money raised for the public-private fundraiser by the DuPont Fund will go towards the park. Leftover money will go towards other projects around the LaVilla neighborhood.
The current design of the park is based of the lyrics of the song the park is named after, according to landscaper Walter Hood.
“A large half of the site is lawn, which is lifted up in the air and half of the site is a garden which relates directly to the house and its archaeology,” Hood said. “The shotgun is used as a muse, as a way in which to bring that historic past forward. On its north side - a stage is created. Almost as an amplifier. The building giving its voice back out to the city.”