County Commission Issues Black History Month Proclamation: Still No Local History
by BRUCE SEAMAN
The Marion County Commission on Tuesday, February 21 issued a Black History Month Proclamation. It was a slightly upgraded version of the “white-washed history” Proclamation which the Commission had presented to Bridges Project and Liberation Ocala African American Council prior to their February 7 meeting. Both groups found the re-write of the Proclamation unacceptable since it lacked any reference to local black history as both groups had originally proposed.
The Proclamation continued to lack any meaningful reference to black history in Marion County, a noteworthy absence since the Confederate History Month Proclamation of April, 2016 had plenty. This version of the County’s Proclamation did manage to add the word “struggle,” but nothing about the struggles faced; no historical references.
For video of the February 7 Commission meeting, and the texts of the Black History Month Proclamations from Bridges Project/Liberation Ocala and the Commission version, plus the Confederate History Month Proclamation text, click this link <http://marionbridges.com/2017/02/09/black-history-whitewashed-again-in-marion-county/> and scroll to the links in different parts of the post.
We haven’t taken the time to transcribe the text of the Proclamation, but we have the video. Click the video file link below and Commissioner Kathy Bryant will read it to you. Educator Anna DeWeese received the Proclamation on behalf of the Marion County School District which operates the Black History Museum at Howard Academy.
“March” Trilogy For All Of Our Young People!
by BRUCE SEAMAN
The immensely popular, award-winning graphic novels called the “March” trilogy, authored by civil rights pillar Congressman John Lewis, are something we feel that every young person in our community should have an opportunity to read.
Bridges Project aims to encourage the love of reading in young people, and ensure that the story of the civil rights movement is fully understood and appreciated.
Supported by a major donation from the Marion Education Association – MEA, the local teachers’ organization – that will provide each middle and high school here with a set of the “March” trilogy, we ask for your support in purchasing many more for distribution throughout the school system, public libraries, community centers, and other community locations serving youth.
Click the link below to download our simple donation form.
Your donation of $30 payable to
Bridges Project, P.O. Box 5213, Ocala, FL 34478-5213
is not tax deductible, but it will purchase a complete 3 volume set of “March” for distribution in our community. Join MEA and the dozens of enthusiastic supporters who have already gotten us nearly halfway to our goal and send your check today.
Thank you in advance for contributing to building a community in which our children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
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.”
Black History Proclamation and Bylaws ready for review
by BRUCE SEAMAN
Okay, I know. Bylaws are hardly exciting, and ours are no different. Still, we need them to provide order and organization for Bridges, as well as to satisfy the expectations of the IRS as we pursue 501 (c) charitable tax status. The Bylaws have been posted here. Click the link below to download a copy to review in advance of the meeting. The Bylaws will be presented to the group on Saturday for review and comments. Once the group has provided its input, the Board will vote on a final version.
Our meeting will be Saturday, February 4 at 10am at OPD’s Community Room, 402 S Pine Ave., Ocala. Rev. Leroy Chandler is our special speaker who has expert knowledge of black history.
We will also review versions of a Black History Month Proclamation. The idea of a Proclamation was advanced and text submitted jointly by Bridges Project and the new Liberation Ocala African American Council. The County Commission office has re-written it and wants to know if their re-write is acceptable. The group can discuss what to do on Saturday.
We had been disturbed by the April, 2016 County Commission Proclamation for Confederate History Month (see here, here and here), and realized that no one was submitting anything for Black History Month. We decided to make sure that a Proclamation was submitted to the County Commission for February, 2017.
If the groups agree to proceed as the County Commission has re-written it, then it would be presented at the Tuesday, February 21 County Commission meeting.
We’ll keep you posted ….
Ignoring Black History Again
by BRUCE SEAMAN
A January 8, 2017 article in the Ocala Star Banner was noteworthy for recounting the history of agriculture in Marion County without a single mention of black people.
Unsurprisingly, it draws as a reference the jingoist 2011 Marion County Historical Commission publication “Marion County’s 150 Year Commemoration of the War Between the States 1861-1865,” an official county document paid for by taxpayers – click here to download and read p 4 “The Home Front.” It begins: Marion countians – both black and white – willingly suffered severe privation while working hard to support the Confederate cause during the War Between the States. And it gets worse.
In response to this article, the following Letter to the Editor from Bridges Project President Bruce Seaman was published in the Star Banner:
No “Breadbasket” without black people
It was stunning to read Sunday’s article about Marion County being the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” and find not a single mention of black people anywhere.
As you should be aware, Marion County in 1860 had a population that was 60% black, and most of them were slaves working the very fields esteemed so highly in the article. Marion County maintained a majority black population until 1920, so clearly there were black men, women, and families who were contributing to the productivity cited in the article.
This is why black history deserves a month of special attention. It is white history month every month. However, black history gets ignored, as it was in this article, or else denied or dismissed. This is not a matter of “political correctness” as some would pejoratively characterize the inclusion of the black experience; it is a simple matter of fairness, justice, and accuracy.
Marion County’s legacy of race relations is not a pretty one. As the location of at least 27 lynchings, often huge public spectacles, and having embraced desegregation only at the threat of court order in the mid-1970s, it has been more customary to exercise prejudice in Marion County’s history than not.
I know the Star Banner will dedicate itself to promoting black history during February, Black History Month, but I would encourage editors and writers to recognize every month that white history isn’t the only history in Marion County.
You’ve shown the community why we need to have groups like NAACP and Bridges Project addressing concerns about race relations in the community. Letters like this one should not have to be written.
Bruce Seaman, President
Bridges Project of Ocala-Marion County
Summer Updates – Meeting notes and more
by BRUCE SEAMAN
This summer has seen some interesting developments.
A group of local young people formed a Facebook group named Black Lives Matter Ocala and quickly organized a rally on Ocala’s Downtown Square in July which Bridges Project supported - pictured above. Between 300-400 people attended the event which featured a variety of speakers. Before the event, tragedies involving police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge had occurred. It set a tone for the event which denied violence of any kind as an answer, expressed grief at the attacks, sympathy for the victim families, and support for law enforcement, and tried to focus the problem on the injustices faced by black people, particularly from law enforcement and the justice system. A great album of pictures from the event has been posted – click here to view.
County Sheriff Chris Blair was suspended from office, and recently withdrew his candidacy to return. Alachua County law enforcement professional Emery Gainey (pictured left) was named by Gov. Scott as Interim Sheriff. Among a host of actions aiming to stabilize the Sheriff’s Office amid significant turmoil, Gainey has reorganized a Citizen’s Advisory Council that had been begun by Blair. It includes several Bridges Project members. Former Chief of the Port Authority of NY-NJ Police Henry DeGeneste was voted as Chair of the Council, and former OPD Chief Morrey Deen was elected Vice Chair.
Historical Commission makes its own history
by BRUCE SEAMAN
Melt-down. Blow-up. Crack-up. Call it what you want, but the Marion County Historical Commission (HC) is making its own history in Marion County. And I don’t mean the faux history of Confederacy apologists for which the HC is already famous.
You’ll recall that the HC was exposed during the Confederate flag controversy last summer as an all-white coffee klatch of nice folks who seemed unaware of anything called “black history.” Unsurprisingly, this group was the enthusiastic proponent of raising the five flags display on County property in the early 1990s, and continued its staunch support last summer.
During the campaign to have the entire flag display removed to a museum, the HC was thrust front and center by the County Commission, charged with making a recommendation. In the spotlight, the never-noticed HC got attention like it had never experienced before.
No longer able to function as a quiet clique, it held a meeting in August that people, lots of people, actually attended, and they had a lot to say about black history. Again, this was a subject which the HC found strange and out of their comfort zone. They appeared rather deaf, raising the old canard about “preserving history and heritage” as if the speakers had not spoken at all. In the end, the HC recommended keeping the display with the Confederate flag flying.
HC Chair Linda Ellwood, a truly dedicated community servant, was at sea in her leadership role during the controversy and resigned once the recommendation was made to the County Commission.
Price Landrum, who retired as a social studies teacher in the Marion County Public Schools only eight years ago, assumed the chairmanship of the HC. Unconfirmed sources suggested that Landrum is a longtime member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
In the months since the Confederate flag flap introduced the HC to the community, several activists with ties to the Bridges Project applied and were approved as HC members. Oscar Goolsby became the first black member of the HC. Things had changed.
Except the agenda.
The HC typically meets in a small meeting room in the County Museum tucked in the back of the McPherson Government Complex (pictured). If the whole HC shows up, there would be little extra space. Add a bunch of visitors, and it’s a problem.
On Monday night, new HC member Emmett Coyne, a retired professor of African American studies, noting the presence of visitors that caused attendees to overflow to the lobby area, asked the chair to have HC members introduce themselves.
From the account by Carlos Medina of the Ocala Star Banner in Tuesday’s edition:
Commission Chairman Price Landrum was against the idea of introductions.
“It’s so elementary school to say, ‘Hi, my name is…’ I just hate it,” Landrum said.
When pressed by Coyne that he was serving on a public board and that some in the room were not familiar with him, Landrum relented.
“Fine. My name is Price Landrum. Are you happy now?” Landrum asked.
The other commission members in attendance introduced themselves except for Robert Smith Jr., who also said he hated introducing himself. Smith sat just outside the door of the meeting room, sketching. He is an accomplished cartoonist.
After that early unpleasantness was completed, Coyne would try to give his report from a committee that was proposing an historical marker to memorialize 30 victims of lynching in Marion County between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950.
Upon learning that the group had met, Smith objected about not being informed, to which Coyne replied that two emails and two phone calls were made to him directly. Challenges were issued about proper public notice to satisfy open meeting (Sunshine Law) requirements, to which either Coyne or new HC member Judy Etzler replied that proper notice had been made through the County office.
Then the location of the meeting – a Dunkin Donuts – was challenged, with Coyne explaining that the Museum meeting room was not made available. The conversation dissolved into confusion as Coyne accused Landrum (or the HC) with creating obstacles to their work on the lynching marker.
Again, Carlos Medina’s account in Tuesday’s Star Banner:
Shortly after, Landrum made a motion to adjourn the meeting.
“I don’t appreciate being yelled at,” he said. “I have better things to do with my life than this.”
The motion died for lack of a second. Landrum left the meeting room and began to ask people to leave. At one point he threatened to call the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
“Don’t forget to insult us some more on the Marion Bridges Project. Post pictures of ‘Crackers’ and say, ‘This is the Marion County Historical Commission,’ like somebody did,” Landrum said after some of those at the meeting complained about the abrupt ending to the meeting.
The confusion obviously turned to chaos under Landrum’s dictatorial leadership, ending the meeting without approval or support, and threatening HC members and visitors with law enforcement action if they didn’t comply.
For the record, as administrator for the several pages that Bridges Project has had on Facebook, and as admin for its web page, I know of nothing like what Landrum described ever appearing. (The Museum’s web site features a picture from 2012 titled “Cracker Social,” and an author with his architecture book “Classic Cracker,” and a 2012 lecturer on “The Cracker Culture in Florida History,” so I guess it’s okay if some people say it.) There were Facebook pages not associated with Bridges Project which may have had related content. Nonetheless, it would be fair to say that unflattering things have been said about the HC on Bridges Project media sites, but it was earned commentary, as this post and this episode reflects.
While the faces on the HC have changed, there is more change that needs to occur. As Medina reported, Landrum promised to resign the next day. That would seem entirely appropriate and quite helpful.
One would expect that the HC will seek to elect a new chair at its next meeting on June 6 if Landrum resigns. If he doesn’t resign, the HC should demand it, having the Vice Chair or other officer identified and prepared to assume leadership at least temporarily.
‘Change is gonna come,’ but no one said it would come easily.
Community discussion continues March 21 after “Racial Taboo” event
by BRUCE SEAMAN
The “Racial Taboo” movie presentation and following discussion on March 7 was hugely successful as the Klein Center at CF was packed to standing room only with over 300 people attending, most of whom remained to participate in small group discussions. The picture above shows only one corner of the room during group discussions.
Click here to read the article in the Star Banner about the event. (We don’t know why the Racial Harmony Task Force is noted at the end of the article; they’re certainly a worthwhile group but they had nothing to do with this event.)
Among the attendees were School Superintendent George Tomyn, School Board member Bobby James, Deputy School Superintendent Theresa Boston-Ellis, County Commissioner Earl Arnett, County Attorney Guy Minter, and Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham.
Whether or not you were with us or not for our “Racial Taboo” event, please join us for our next film and conversation on Monday, March 21st at 7 pm at Oakbrook Center for Spiritual Living, 1009 NE 28th Avenue, Ocala.
To spark the conversation, we will be viewing the first in the PBS series,
”The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Subsequent events will be scheduled at sites throughout the county.
“Racial Taboo” Movie Coming Here March 7
by PEGGY HOSTETLER
The Chain Breakers Working Group of the Bridges Project have been working diligently to ensure the success of the Racial Taboo Movie and Discussion, coming up on Monday, March 7th at 7 pm.
** Watch the two minute movie trailer – click here. **
We are fortunate to have the Ewers Century Center as our venue and the Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences of the College of Central Florida as co-sponsors.
Free and open to everyone, “Racial Taboo” is shown only to diverse audiences. A lesson in American history leavened by comedy and candor, the film is intended to be a prelude to ongoing civil conversations throughout our community in which fear, shame and blame are transformed into the compassion and care of greater understanding.
Brian Grimm, the writer/director, will be in town to co-host the discussion afterward along with Rev. Peggy Hostetler, VP of Bridges Project, and Oscar Goolsby, first black member of the Marion County Historical Commission.
Please share this with your friends and mark this important event on your calendar now.
Be sure to join us on Monday, March 7th at 7 pm at the Ewers Center at CF. Your presence will bless us all as we move toward overcoming racism, right here in Ocala and Marion County.
LTE: Mixed Signals on Racism, Confederate Flag
by BRUCE SEAMAN
Troubling issues were revealed amid the recent incident at West Port High School when white students produced a Confederate flag and taunted black students, inciting a black student to strike a white student.
In meeting with OPD Chief Graham and Schools Superintendent Tomyn, Rev. Reginald Willis, Sr. of Marion County NAACP and I shared our concerns, and our desire for improvements in key areas. As further information has developed, our concerns have heightened. Their willingness to listen was appreciated, and we expect further discussions in the future.
One thing is certain. . The County Commission failed to confront the racism inherent in the Confederate flag, opting to move it from one location to another. Removing the flag to a museum would have sent a clear message. Instead, their faulty decision reverberates, sending mixed signals to the community.
Bridges Project and Marion County NAACP hoped that the Commission would recognize the indisputable history of flags of the Confederacy as representing the unfortunate fulfillment of “America’s original sin,” slavery, and the vicious racism at its heart and soul. Instead, the Commission endorsed white heritage, our racist heritage, and voted to continue proudly flying a Confederate flag in Marion County.
Can we honestly make the case for a just, equitable Marion County today when the Confederate flag still flies, reflecting our county’s ignorance and negligence toward black history? What message is sent to young people about this emblem of racial hatred and oppression? Sadly, the County Commission declared this emblem worthy of honor.
We need leadership from all elected officials on this issue. So far, we have had an endorsement of our racist past which frankly is an endorsement for our racist present and future. Take down the flag, end the mixed signals, and let’s move forward.
Bruce Seaman, President
Bridges Project Ocala-Marion County
published in the Ocala Star Banner “Letters to the editor for Feb. 20, 2016”