Black History Whitewashed Again in Marion County
by BRUCE SEAMAN
On Tuesday, Bridges Project members confronted the Marion County Commission with their refusal to allow actual Marion County history to be included in a Black History Month Proclamation. The Commission’s response was very familiar.
Bridges Project was the leading organization in the sustained campaign in 2015 for the removal of the Confederate flag from flying proudly in a display hosted by Marion County government. Citizen advocates from Bridges tirelessly and relentlessly attended County Commission meetings in the summer and fall of 2015. They presented case after case of history that made clear how the Confederacy that was being honored in the flying of its flag was in fact a system of racism, oppression, and exploitation of the most ugly and brutal kind. Our voices fell on deaf ears as the flag and the display were simply moved from its frontage on SE 25th Avenue to the rear of the same property near the Marion County Historical Museum. Click here for our view on that Commission decision.
As our previous post on the Proclamation disclosed, we were purposeful in bringing this matter to the County Commission this year. The new Liberation Ocala African American Council was co-sponsor of the proclamation with Bridges Project.
Our proposed text for a Black History Month Proclamation cited specific episodes in Marion County history that are routinely omitted, ignored, or denied, as was on display in the Confederate flag controversy and decision. Our desire was that the County Commission would not only recognize Black History Month, but simply recognize black history in Marion County – the facts, note that this history is neither known nor appreciated, and encourage awareness and study by citizens.
We realized that there may be some language in our proposed text that would be contentious. In emailing the proposed text to staff, we allowed that, “If Commissioners have any issues, we’re open to speaking with them about it.”
The response over a week later from County Commission staff was that our proposed text had been “tweaked a little,” presenting us with a text that was entirely re-written, excluding any actual black history in Marion County.
Both the Bridges/Liberation Ocala proposed text and the County Commission proposed text are provided in the PDF link below the end of this article for "Black History Month Proclamation Texts."
The general response from both Bridges Project and Liberation Ocala was negative. One can understand the objection: If you can’t mention actual black history in a Black History Month proclamation, what good is it?
Needless to say, when challenged by Bridges Project members at the Tuesday, February 7 County Commission meeting, County Commissioners had some baffling responses.
Click here to view our slightly edited video of this portion of the County Commission meeting on YouTube.
Commission Chair Carl Zalak stated his belief that Ms. Julius Edwards’ reading of the Bridges text of the proposed proclamation at the meeting was simply to have it on the record.
He would later complain about the specific phrase, “every day and every month is a celebration of the history of white people,” a phrase that we would have considered deleting if much of the rest of the text remained. However, that objection was never raised to our attention, and the option of editing our text was precluded by the re-write.
He also insisted that “we needed to stop talking about” divisive things (like facts) and talk about unifying things (omit facts?).
Commissioner Kathy Bryant waxed once again about growing up in poverty and never having experienced “white privilege” in response to a critical comment from a pastor who is unaffiliated with either sponsoring organizations. The pastor insisted that white people have and do benefit from white privilege. Perhaps Commissioner Bryant thinks that having Black History Month is “black privilege,” something that white people don’t experience.
Mrs. Gayle, a black citizen, also voiced her support for the Commissioners in opposing divisiveness and insisting that color should not matter, and discussions about race should not be continued.
The opinion ‘not talking about racism solves the problem’ reflects a belief that any contemporary racism is non-existent or not meaningful, and is merely promoted by divisive race-baiters. This basic belief is common and would be repeated often by critics on social media.
Bridges Project and Liberation Ocala African American Council must disagree. Not talking about any problem does not solve the problem (denial), but ensures its continuation.
Of course, if there is no problem recognized – like, racism doesn’t really exist any longer – then admitting actual history should not be an issue. Since the actual history of black people in Marion County – the facts – gets regarded as “divisive,” then black people cannot have their painful history in Marion County recognized.
Remarkably, the divisiveness of the Civil War seems not to be a problem since the County Commission issued a proclamation for Confederate History Month in April, 2016 - you can download the "2016 Confederate History Month Proclamation" at the PDF link below the end of the article.
Black history gets defined by our County Commission as what is acceptable to white people once again, the facts be damned. That’s “whitewashing” history.
As Ms. Julius Edwards concluded, “we must do better.”