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Jacksonville civil rights activist Ben Frazier dies at 73

Published on June 25, 2023 at 12:23 pm

Ben Frazier, once a trailblazing journalist who became a tireless advocate for racial justice, has died. He passed away on Saturday night at UF Health Jacksonville one day after his 73rd birthday after being diagnosed with cancer last fall. 

“He fought for equality among Jacksonville’s citizens, equity in our neighborhoods and integrity, transparency, accountability and compassion in our government,” his daughter Kelly wrote in a statement on Saturday night.

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Despite his diagnosis, Frazier’s activism, as leader of the Northside Coalition, was far from subdued. In December, hours after undergoing cancer treatment, he was arrested at City Hall for refusing to stay within strict time limits while speaking against a Confederate monument on public property.

Ben Frazier is arrested inside City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, on charges of trespassing with warning and resisting arrest hours after leaving the hospital. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry had allocated $500,000 to remove the Women of the Confederacy statue from Springfield Park last year, but the bronze monument remains in the same place it did a century ago.

Frazier grew up in Northwest Jacksonville and graduated from Raines High School in 1968. He was one of the first Black journalists to appear on air at a Jacksonville television station in the 1970s.

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“The National Association of Black Journalists Northeast Florida chapter sends its heartfelt condolences to the family of broadcast journalist, chapter member and civil rights activist Ben Frazier,” the association wrote in a statement. “Ben was instrumental in the creation of the national organization in 1975. Ben’s career began in Jacksonville, lending his stellar voice to local radio and broadcast stations. He then excelled to national prominence as a civil rights activist and friend to the community.

“We salute his dedication to the journalism community and his efforts to make the city a better place for people of diverse backgrounds,” the association said. 

On Sunday, after preaching a sermon about Christians who challenge the status quo, Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr. of The Bethel Church saluted Frazier, who was a member of the congregation.

“He knew how to get into good trouble,” McKissick told his congregation. “Ben was a good man. He disturbed the peace. He dethroned power. And, he was out to destroy prejudice.”

In a 2008 interview with The Florida Times-Union, Frazier says drug use led him to lose his journalism career and eventually find himself sleeping on the streets. However, that nadir led to a second act that affected thousands.

Incoming Jacksonville City Council member Rahman Johnson says he became a journalist because of Frazier’s stint as a noon anchor at WJXT in the 1970s.

“While his career was unprecedented and a pattern for success, he would remind me that his life was also a series of lessons in what not to do,” Johnson wrote in a statement. “I am honored that as an adult he became my friend.”

Frazier founded the Northside Coalition in 2015. The multi-racial, racial justice organization demanded Jacksonville and Florida live up to the rights promised to Black residents.

Ben Frazier, Founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, led a unity protest on the steps of City Hall on Monday, May 16, 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

His activism took him from Jacksonville to the world stage. Last year, Frazier spoke to the United Nations Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination to decry a bill passed by the Florida Legislature in 2021, HB1, which increased penalties for rioting. 

Frazier said that bill would have a chilling effect on those who exercise their First Amendment rights to speech, peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

“At a time of racial reckoning in our country, this law was designed to discourage peaceful demonstrations and to scare Black protestors from organizing and fighting for safer communities,” Frazier told the UN committee. “It’s meant to keep us from exercising our right to speak out about long-standing abuses against our communities. The committee must denounce and condemn this crooked and corrupt law. Otherwise, other states will follow suit.”

The Northside Coalition was among the organizations that defeated the Jacksonville City Council in federal court this year on their accusation that the city’s redistricting of School Board and City Council districts packed Black voters into a small handful of districts. A judge eventually ordered the city to instead use a map submitted by the plaintiffs, and a settlement had the city cover their attorney’s fees. 

In his final weeks, Frazier campaigned for Mayor-elect Donna Deegan, joined the Northside Coalition in supporting a travel advisory for Black travelers to Florida and celebrated victory in the federal redistricting lawsuit.

Frazier hold his prepared remarks before approaching the lectern at City Hall before his arrest on Dec. 13, 2022. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

In a statement, the Jacksonville NAACP celebrated Frazier’s life as a journalist and activist.

“Ben Frazier fought tirelessly for the well-being of Jacksonville’s citizens, advocating for equity in our neighborhoods and calling for integrity, transparency, accountability, and compassion in our government. His passion and unwavering commitment to social justice have left an indelible mark on our community, inspiring countless individuals to take action and work towards a more inclusive society.” 

Memorial arrangements are pending.


author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.
author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at will@jaxtoday.org.