Jimmy Royals is a tall, strong, 76 year-old black soldier. He’s wearing an electric blue polo shirt, jacket, and a beanie, all with an embroidered “LAZ Parking” logo. His reading glasses and grayish beard remind us that he’s been around, not precisely in the same parking lot he has been managing for three years…
In 1964, Jimmy was fighting segregation on the streets of downtown Jacksonville.
“Back in ‘64 we out there fighting. They got the water hose on us, they got the dogs on us.”
One year later, he was fighting overseas, after being drafted to Vietnam to fight “white boy business.”
“They drafted me to go fight a war that I ain’t got no businesses fighting. I haven’t done anything overseas. I never been overseas. Now you’re threatening me with five years in federal prison if I don’t go?
A black soldier fought two wars, people don’t understand that. The way we were treated here [in Jacksonville] and now we’re threatened if we don’t come over there and fight? If you hate me and you don’t want me around you, then why draft me into your war? That’s your war, not mine.”
This was the story Jimmy told us after looking at the wall Belgian artist Adele Renault was painting for Art Republic, a street art and culture festival taking place in Jacksonville from November 1st-12th.
“Why did you all put that up there, why did you put a jungle up there?
Every day that’s what I had to see in Vietnam. Every night we had to chop our way through the jungle. I don’t want to relive it, I don’t want to think about it…you know…seeing guts, thinking about having your face blown off, or your leg blown off. Somebody in pain, crying and you can’t help them. I just didn’t want to think about it and now having to look at this every day, you know, who’s playing tricks on me?”
After saying this, Keif Scheifler, a badass art teacher who was working as logistical engineer at the festival asked him: “Hey Jimmy, have you ever seen a pigeon?”
“Of course I’ve seen a pigeon,” Jimmy replied.
“Look at the colors on the back of their feathers, on their wings”, said Keif.
“Hmmmm ok, [long silence] I see. I can live with that. I can see the bird now, I can see the wings, I can see the colors. This is good because I don’t have to look at it every day and think about me and my squad going through it, and we gotta chop, we gotta chop, all night we gotta chop. I can deal with it now because I got a different outlook. I can see a friendly wall. Pigeons remind me of my childhood and my grandma. Every time I look at the wall now I think about my grandma.
Ever since I spent over three years studying gentrification, making Right to Wynwood and realizing how art has become the perfect marketing tool to activate areas and increase property value, I haven’t been able to look at a mural with the same eyes. The thought of artists being co-opted and the spontaneity of street art being replaced by planned schemes are sometimes sad things for my romantic views, but meeting people like Adele, Keif and Jimmy make it all alright again.
Adele dedicated the wall to Jimmy.
“I got a wall, I got a wall!” the pigeon sang.
I’ll never forget his big smile.