Jacksonville University partners with local organizations to honor African American veteran Cpl. William Johnson

May 28, 2024

Jacksonville University, in partnership with Local Initiatives Support Coalition Jacksonville (LISC Jacksonville), Congressman Aaron Bean, and the City of Jacksonville, unveiled plans to commemorate an African American burial site on its campus – starting with a new headstone for a Civil War Veteran, Cpl. William Johnson.
 Cpl. Johnson headstone
In an effort to properly honor Cpl. Johnson, as well as the others buried at the site, LISC Jacksonville, alongside Jacksonville University, announced plans to revitalize the cemetery on campus. The Haskell Company is leading the revitalization efforts of the site, which is located immediately east of the Jacksonville University warehouse, near the Green Street gate, along University Boulevard.
Cpl. Johnson served during the Civil War in the 33rd Infantry of the U.S. Colored Troops (USTC). He lived in the Arlington neighborhood and attended a church that was once located on Jacksonville University land. As a freed slave, he enlisted at Fort Clinch in Fernandina Beach.
“We’ve always taken great pride in honoring our veterans at Jacksonville University, and we’re humbled to be able to provide a new headstone for Cpl. Johnson, and to properly honor those buried at the site,” said Jacksonville University President Tim Cost. “It’s not only important to us, but especially to the Arlington community, to honor those who occupied this beautiful piece of land before us.”
Dr. BuettingerEmeritus Professor of History at Jacksonville University Dr. Craig Buettinger initially notified LISC of the unmarked gravesite in 2022, when LISC launched the “Operation Final Hours” initiative. The initiative was designed to help local families access free support to place headstones on the unmarked burial sites of their military veteran family members. Dr. Buettinger and Jacksonville University Professor of Geography, Dr. Ray Oldakowski, led the university’s efforts to replace the headstone since Cpl. Johnson has no living family members.
“LISC Jacksonville is honored to be a part of a collective effort to preserve and memorialize the final resting place for Cpl. William Johnson along with the other unmarked burials at the gravesite,” said Kristopher Smith, Community Development Program Officer at LISC Jacksonville. “We look forward to continuing this important work in our community.”
Congressman Aaron Bean ‘89, who represents Florida’s 4th district, was instrumental in the efforts to honor Cpl. Johnson. His team applied to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a new headstone, and made a formal inquiry to the National Archives to learn more biographical information about Cpl. Johnson.
“Cpl. William Johnson was an American hero, and this headstone is a symbol of respect and gratitude for his selfless service during the bloodiest and most divisive battle in our nation’s history,” said Congressman Bean. “This is a proud moment for our community, and I’m pleased to have been a part in commemorating the significant contribution and legacy of Cpl. Johnson.”
Several groups and organizations played a pivotal part in obtaining the new headstone, including: The Buffalo Soldiers Historical Society, City of Jacksonville Military Affairs and Veterans Department, Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, UNF Digital Humanities Institute, Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, Attorney John November, Cosmo Historical Society, and the Florida Public Archaeological Network.

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