Diaz-Balart, Steube split on vote to remove Capitol Confederate statues; Rooney absent

07-23-20 Robert-E-Lee-statue-capitol-768x557-768x557A statue of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee in the Crypt of the Capitol.  (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

July 23, 2020 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, July 22, the House of Representatives voted 305 to 113 to remove statues commemorating Confederate figures from the US Capitol.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for the resolution. Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent.

As of this writing, none of the Southwest Florida members had issued statements on any platform explaining their votes or absences.

The bill, House Resolution (HR) 7573, introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5-Md.), directs the Joint Committee on the Library “to remove all statues of individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in the United States Capitol” and to replace a bust of Supreme Court Justice Roger Brooke Taney in the Old Supreme Court Chamber with a bust of Justice Thurgood Marshall. (Taney was the chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1857 when wrote the decision in Dred Scott vs. Sanford  ruling that African Americans were not US citizens.  Thurgood Marshall was the first African American Supreme Court justice.)

There are 11 statues honoring Confederate lawmakers and generals in the Capitol building in addition to the Taney bust.

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Fla.) spoke on the House floor, saying that “in Congress and in the Country, we must maintain a drumbeat to ensure that this moment of anguish continues to be transformed into action.”

She continued: “As I have said before, the halls of Congress are at the very heart of our democracy.  The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and what we aspire to as a nation.  Monuments to men who advocated barbarism and racism are a grotesque affront to those ideals.  Their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

Weekend of activism, demonstrations looming in SWFL, statewide–UPDATED

06-11-20 Seed to Table cropped, adjustedThe Seed to Table store in North Naples.      (Photo: author)

June 11, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated 2:40 pm with Lee County announcement and new petition numbers.

This weekend is shaping up to be a politically active and potentially polarizing one in Southwest Florida and statewide.

It will also likely be the most complete mass abandonment of coronavirus restraints since the state implemented safety measures in April.

Seed to Table

In Southwest Florida on Saturday two demonstrations have been called at the Seed to Table store in North Naples, at the corner of Immokalee and Livingston roads.

The dueling demonstrations are the result of a Monday, June 8 Facebook post by store owner Alfie Oakes, who, in a 758-word screed called: COVID-19 a “hoax;” denounced “the black lives matter race hoax;” excoriated the “brainwashing arms of the media;” characterized Black Lives Matter protesters as “lemmings” and “lost souls without any direction or sense of purpose;” and labeled George Floyd “a disgraceful career criminal, thief, drug addict, drug dealer and ex-con.”

The response was swift and overwhelming. A petition was launched on Change.org calling on the Lee and Collier County school boards to cut ties with Oakes Farms. As of this writing, 11,814 people had signed it and the count was rising by the minute. Collier County schools cut ties with Oakes Farm and the Benison Center, which distributes free food in Immokalee, where Oakes has been a major benefactor, is also dropping the controversial donor.

This afternoon the School District of Lee County issued a statement: “The School District of Lee County has severed ties with Oakes Farms. The District will soon be working with other suppliers to ensure that fresh fruits and vegetables continue to be provided to our students.”

The group Activist Protection League of SWFL, called for a protest at Seed to Table on Saturday, June 13, from 2 pm to 5 pm. The League is “a collection of Collier and Lee residents that seek to provide infrastructure, training, and guidance to any activist group that requests it,” according to its Facebook page.

In a Facebook post in response, Oakes announced a demonstration in support of his store one hour before the scheduled protest and warned: “Any agitators are NOT welcome, and will be removed immediately.”

“Please come show your support for [Collier County Sheriff’s Office], the rule of law and ALL lives matter at Seed to Table 4835 immokalee Road at 1 pm this Saturday!” Oakes stated.  “We are going to have a peaceful and loving show of support for the great work of our officers during these unprecedented times. We will show the world the silent majority can no longer remain silent!”

The Seed to Table events follow numerous demonstrations in Fort Myers and Naples protesting the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 25.

06-05-20 Antonio Dumornay
Antonio Dumornay

 

The Alfie Oakes controversy apparently attracted the attention of one of SWFL’s congressional candidates, Independent Antonio Dumornay, who tweeted on June 7: “For the first time I am watching minorities react to the George Floyd BLM protests! People getting fired for their prejudice remarks and businesses still remain slow because owners don’t know how to SHUT THE HELL UP.”

Trump events

In an effort to counter the nationwide demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd, supporters of President Donald Trump are planning a day of activities throughout Florida on Sunday, June 14, which is also Trump’s 74th birthday and Flag Day.

The pro-Trump events are being planned by Trump Team 2020 Florida, a group that feels the Florida Republican Party is insufficiently supportive of Trump.

The group does not list any events for Southwest Florida. Parties are scheduled for Pensacola, Jacksonville, The Villages, Citrus City, Hernando City and Palm Beach. Boat flotillas, known as “Trumptillas,” are scheduled for Tampa, Hernando City, Jacksonville and Pensacola.

There is no central listing for upcoming events protesting the death of George Floyd or supporting Black Lives Matter.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

It happened here: The 1924 Fort Myers lynching, 95 years later

05-21-19 black-neighborhood-fort-myers-med

The African-American neighborhood of Fort Myers in an undated photo.

May 22, 2019 by David Silverberg

Saturday, May 25th, will mark 95 years since two African-American teenagers were seized by a white mob and lynched in Fort Myers, Fla.

The anniversary comes amidst a rise in hatred and racism in the United States and serves as a stark reminder of where bigotry ultimately leads. It’s also a demonstration of what happens when the rule of law breaks down.

It can happen here—and it has.

It’s also worth remembering; history does not have to repeat.

What happened

This account draws from two sources: One is an article in The Fort Myers News-Press on the event’s 90th anniversary. That article, “Lynching history spurs call for closure, 90 years later” by reporter Janine Zeitlin, was published on May 21, 2014. The account drew on people’s recollections and the work of Nina Denson-Rogers, historian of the Lee County Black History Society, who pieced together fragmentary information on the incident.

The other is the original, unbylined article that appeared in the Fort Myers Press on May 26, 1924, headlined, “Negroes pay penalty for horrible crime committed yesterday.”  (Referred in this article as the “1924 account.” The article is posted in full below.)

According to Zeitlin, on Sunday, May 25, 1924 two black teenagers, R.J. Johnson, 14, and Milton Wilson, 15, (given as “Bubbers” Wilson and Milton Williams in the 1924 account) were spotted by a passerby swimming with two white girls on the outskirts of Fort Myers, then a segregated city of about 3,600 people. Lee County was home to about 15,000 people.

“The lynchings happened after R.J. and Milton went swimming at a pond with two white girls on the outskirts of town,” according to the Zeitlin article. “They were said to friends with the girls, maybe more. Perhaps they were skinny-dipping. There were rumors of rape, though one girl and her brother denied it.”

The two boys and girls lived near each other, were long familiar and played with each other as children, states Zeitlin. The swimming was reported by someone as a rape. The 1924 account simply states that the boys “attacked two young Fort Myers school girls.”

The black community first learned that something was amiss when evening church services were canceled. Just before sunset the rape report resulted in white residents on foot, horseback and in cars gathering at a white girl’s residence. From there they began invading black homes and yards in a search for the two boys.

During the evening, chaos spread through the city as the search continued. At one point a gas truck was driven into the black community with the intention of burning it down if the boys weren’t found.

05-20-19 Sheriff Ed Albritton Lee County lynching
Lee County Sheriff J. “Ed” Albritton in an undated photo.    (LCSO)

At some point R.J. Johnson was found. According to the 1924 account, he was arrested by Sheriff J.E. Albritton and put in the county jail.

“Hearing of this the armed citizens went to the jail and demanded the prisoner. The request being lawfully refused by the sheriff, he was overpowered, the jail unlocked and the negro led out,” states the 1924 article.

According to that article, once seized, Johnson was “taken before one of the girls” where he was identified and confessed. According to Zeitlin, however, one of the girls and her brother denied that there had been any rape.

In the Zeitlin account, Johnson was taken to a tree along Edison Avenue, hanged and shot. According to the 1924 account “his body was riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets to the Safety Hill section.”

The search then continued for Wilson, who was found at 4:46 am the next morning by a railroad foreman, hiding in a railroad box car on a northbound train. He was taken from the box car, hanged, castrated and shot multiple times. His body was then dragged down Cranford Avenue by a Model T.

“It was like a parade, some evil parade in Hell,” according to Mary Ware, a resident who was quoted in a 1976 article in the News-Press. The crowd broke up when the sheriff and a judge appeared.

05-18-19 lynchingclipOn Monday the afternoon edition of the Fort Myers News-Press was headlined “Negroes Pay Penalty for Horrible Crime Committed Yesterday.”

On the same day a jury convened and absolved the sheriff, attributing the lynchings to “parties unknown.”

“That the rape had taken place, the black community definitely felt never occurred, that it was prefabricated by this white man who came across them swimming,” said resident Jacob Johnson in a late 1990s interview with the Lee County Black History Society, quoted by Zeitlin. “Everyone felt … these boys had just been killed for no reason, other than they were there with these white girls.”

Commentary: Learning from history

As stated at the outset, this is where racism and bigotry lead.

But it’s also a lesson in the need for the rule of law. The two accused teenagers were never able to assert or prove their innocence, were presumed guilty from the outset, were never granted a public trial and were punished according to the whims of the mob, all violations of basic personal, legal and constitutional protections.

As the rule of law is eroded in this country, flouted from the president on down, every American loses the protections that law provides. The result can be something like the 1924 Fort Myers lynchings—and can lead to the deaths of innocents.

And as for false accusations and mistaken impressions leading to dangerous consequences, those are with us too.

The Sunday before last, on May 12, at the Off-the-Hook comedy club in Naples, Fla., when comedian Ahmed Ahmed made a joke about organizing a terrorist group with the Middle Easterners in the audience, a patron called 9-1-1 to report a possible terrorist incident.

Because of a joke. By a comedian. In a comedy club.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

 

26 May 1924, Page 1 - News-Press at Newspapers.com saved 5-18-19 cropped

Below is the full text, with original capitalization and usage, of the article on the Fort Myers lynching as published on the front page of The Fort Myers Press, on May 26, 1924:

NEGROES PAY PENALTY FOR HORRIBLE CRIME COMMITTED YESTERDAY

Two negro youths, “Bubbers” Wilson and Milton Williams, met death at the hands of “unknown persons” early this morning following their positive identification as the two negroes who yesterday afternoon had attacked two young Fort Myers school girls.

Within a few hours after word of the happening had reached town a systematic search was started independent of the efforts of Sheriff J.E. Albritton who with his force was on the job immediately upon hearing of the crime.

A general round up of suspicious characters by the sheriff’s office netted Wilson, who was lodged in the county jail.

Hearing of this the armed citizens went to the jail and demanded the prisoner. The request being lawfully refused by the sheriff, he was overpowered, the jail unlocked and the negro led out.

Taken before one of the girls he was identified by her and then taken away where he confessed to his captors, following which his body was riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets to the Safety Hill section.

The search for his accomplice was then carried out with increased vigor, all outlets from the city being carefully guarded. The hunted man was located about 4:46 a.m., on a north-bound train pulling out of the railroad yards. Following his positive identification, he met the same fate as the first negro.

The following jurors were sworn in by County Judge N.G. Stout, coroner ex-officio, this morning: C. J. Stubbs, C.C. Pursley, Vernon Wilderquist, Alvin Gorton, W.W. White and Thomas J. Evans.

Charged with ascertaining by what means the two negroes met their deaths, the jurors reported as follows: “the said “Bubbers” Wilson and Wilton Williams came to their death in the following manner, to-wit:

By the hands of parties unknown, and we herewith wish to commend the Sheriff and his entire force for the earnest efforts made by them, in their attempt to carry out the duties of their office.”

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