Hello Members, Patrons & Allies,
Happy New Year! As we move forward in our new world of less physical contact, our visual world is constantly expanding. With this expansion comes the exposure of the many underlying concerns of this country.
We all witnessed a deeply painful moment in our history unfold on January 6th when insurrectionists trampled on our democracy by vandalizing our Capitol while congressional meetings were in session. We watched as our representatives and their staffs hid in closets and cubbyholes in fear for their lives. I can only imagine what would have unfolded had the insurrectionists been non-white. They would not have been escorted out with no immediate arrests nor allowed to vacate the premise at their own pace. It was shameful to see how long it took additional security forces to arrive and quell the disturbance. Now we wait for justice and a real conversation about the part race played in this action.
It was all about race as we watched “white privilege on steroids” per Paul Butler, former prosecutor, and current law professor of Georgetown University Law Center. I can’t help but remember reading a quote from President Abraham Lincoln during all of this - “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
We at Bridges Project Ocala/Marion County will continue the fight to shed light on the racial injustices that underlie most of the services afforded us on a daily basis. We want to hear from the community on how we might move closer to embracing truth and democracy, all while not infringing on anyone’s freedoms, but protecting all voices. There is work to be done and we all must vow to participate in some way to get to a better place in this country.
We hope you will join us in 2021 to celebrate a new world with so much potential.
A Bert Perkins, President
Bridges Project of Ocala/Marion County
VIDEO: Former Bridges President Bruce Seaman responds to David Stone of Southern Pride
This video by former President of Bridges Project Bruce Seaman was in response to being called out in a video posted on the Facebook page "Marion County Political Forum," known for its accommodation of hyper-conservative opinions, conspiracy theorizing, and generous doses of nastiness and hate speech.
The poster was David Stone of Southern Pride, ostensible co-organizer of the July, 2015 Pride Ride with critical support from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, bringing about 2,000 Confederate flag-waving vehicles from around the region to Ocala/Marion County - click here for that story. The event was seen by many as having a remarkable kinship with an old-fashioned "Klan Ride" used to intimidate and even terrorize black communities in the days of Jim Crow legal segregation.
Stone was miffed by Bridges Project's condemnation of proclamations by the Marion County Commission and Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn to honor April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day.
Stone's rambling 18-minute video called for Seaman to join with him in an act of unity. Seaman had already published a letter in the Ocala Star Banner regarding Confederate apologists - the letter can read by clicking here. Stone apparently had not read the letter.
This video response was first posted on Facebook on the "Marion County Political Forum" page.
Peggy Brookins addresses
Peggy Brookins, President & CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, returned to Marion County on March 21, 2019 to make a special presentation for Bridges Project at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
Now a national figure in teaching and education, Peggy had taught in Marion County’s Forest High School. She helped develop the prestigious Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology (EMIT) magnet program.
In her presentation, she addressed the issue of failing schools, pointing to the need for better training and ongoing support of teachers, promoting the craft of pedagogy over teach-to-the-test methods, the new possibilities created by community schools providing wrap-around services for families, and much more.
Essay Contest Awards Presented
Five of eight middle and high school winners of an essay contest on civil rights received Barnes & Noble gift cards in person from Bridges Project on Saturday, March 2. They read their work before an enthusiastic audience which included Marion County Schools Superintendent Dr. Heidi Maier at the book store located in Market Place at Heathbrook.
Rev. Peggy Hostetler, Vice President of Bridges Project, said they all responded with remarkable maturity to the question posed for the essay: What lessons have you learned from the civil rights movement and how are they being applied to effect change today?
Amari Ramos, 11th grade student at West Port High School, received first place among the high school group which also included Isabella Davis, Dariez Goodson and D'Angelo Rodriguez, all taught by Jesse Preece at West Port.
Winner of first place award for middle school students was Alexandra Laciuga, sixth grader at Howard Middle School taught by Pamela Earnest who also taught another sixth grade winner, Cristina Bejarano. Two other eighth grade winners were Chelsea James, Howard Middle School - Sara Stawecki, teacher, and Imani Linzy, Lake Weir Middle School - Sarah Layendecker, teacher.
Retired high school principal Pat Keith headed the committee judging the entrants which also included Margaret Sherman and Tom Butler.
(There are more pictures from the event which can be seen on the Gallery page - click above.)
Congratulations to all, and thank you for participating in Bridges' first essay contest.
Howard Academy's History
Local leader and historian Alonzo Hardy put together the presentation below about the long and fascinating story of Howard Academy. He graciously agreed to allow Bridges Project to publish it here as we continue seeking to honor our local black history. The slides are at 20 second intervals; use the Pause button if you need more time. Use the arrows at bottom right for full screen viewing.
Candid Conversations: Living in Color - What Can I Do About Racism? brought together over 300 attendees from all walks of life, ages and races on Monday, February 4th, packing College of Central Florida's Klein Center in seeking to find some common ground and talk about the uncomfortable subject of racism. The result was nothing short of extraordinary!
(Official event video below is edited for time; the rest of the post continues below the video panel.)
Audience members seated at tables of six were asked to share their thoughts after watching the performances. These performances ranged from skits to an original poem. Then conversations began with the people at their table who were deliberately mixed, bringing together people who were unfamiliar with each other.
When the audience was given the opportunity to share their experience of the event, 47 out of 50 tables of participants stood up and shared the powerful and challenging impact of the performances and discussions. They were saying things like, "empowering; eye-opening; inspiring; sense of community; understanding; empathy; being truly heard" and many more. The comment was made several times: 'This was amazing! Let's do this again real soon.'
Ocala-Marion County, we hear you and events are in the works. Months of meetings, planning, and hard work by volunteers and Chain Breakers Working Group members came to a beautiful culmination in this successful event at CF, no small feat with a huge amount of energy and effort. Stay tuned.
We thank our partners and sponsors,College of Central Florida, Ollin Women International, and The Humanists of North Central Florida and many other supporters too numerous to name.
See more pictures from the Candid Conversations event on February 3rd at CF's Klein Center at our Gallery page.
New Historical Commission still avoids black history
by BRUCE SEAMAN
You can read in a previous post how tragically useless the former Marion County Historical Commission became during and after the Confederate flag fiasco in 2016. Populated by a majority who were either members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans or United Daughters of the Confederacy, the HC showed a scandalous disinterest and even hostility to black history in Marion County. It wore its racism on its sleeve and was indifferent to criticism.
After the Confederate flag issue was decided by the County Commission, new people sought positions on the Historical Commission, including its first black member. However, it didn’t handle the new views which these members brought with them too well. It became so dysfunctional that it made front page news and the Marion County Board of County Commissioners dissolved this citizen advisory board.
Eventually, a new Historical Commission was created with its members deriving from appointments made by County Commissioners. How do you think that’s worked out?
Historian Emmett Coyne penned an op-ed that appeared in the Sunday Star Banner on August 20, 2017. Click here to read the full text. The faces have changed on the Historical Commission and the conversations are less raucous, but recognizing black history remains problematic.
Bridges Project’s Monument Group leader Mike Davis made a request that the Historical Commission endorse the county’s provision of a small parcel of land, like on its planned historic trail, for a memorial to the 27 victims of lynching in Marion County identified and documented by the Bridges’ Monument Group.
(Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) claims that there were 30 lynchings in Marion County, however the Bridges team has been unable to account for such a number, and despite repeated requests, EJI has provided no documentation to substantiate its claim of 30 victims. Bridges is sticking with what it can verify.)
Initially, HC member Tom Schmitz, who also has a Facebook webcast called Common Sense, opposed any support. (He makes plain in an interview with me on his webcast on August 23rd – click here to view the webcast – that he opposes all memorials and statues of any kind on public property, and any use of taxpayer resources for them.)
At its most recent meeting on August 14, HC member Paul Skinner, also chairman of the county’s Republican Party, made a motion to reject Bridges’ request for space based on his reading of a statute, adding that if relatives of a lynching victim still living in Marion County came forward to make the request, then it might be reconsidered.
The vote to reject the Bridges request was 3-3 with one abstention; the motion failed. So, the request remains on the table for the Historical Commission to do the right thing … yet.
What will happen next? Let’s say that we shouldn’t have our hopes set too high that the Historical Commission will change its legacy activity in ignoring black history in our community.
Slavery, “Johnny Reb” and the Confederacy
by BRUCE SEAMAN AUGUST 31, 2017
This op-ed was published on Sunday, August 28 by the Ocala Star Banner. It can seen online by clicking here. The submitted text is below.
Above are pictures of the “Johnny Reb” statue to the Confederate war effort that is currently resident at Marion County’s Veterans Memorial Park. As you can see in the right photo from the statue’s unveiling, presumably 1908, the towering statue has been placed in front of the old County Courthouse, then in front of the new County Courthouse, and, upon the major renovation of the County Courthouse, moved in 2009 to its current home at Vets Park as pictured on the left. For these photos, we recognize the Florida Public Archaeology Network which has a collection of views of the statue. You can see them all and read its inscriptions by clicking here.
The text of the op-ed:
The whitewashed history of the South and the Confederacy was taught in Marion County Public Schools until 1999. It would be no surprise to find history teachers who still teach it today. In that sanitized version of history, slavery was not the primary cause of secession. That’s completely untrue.
I recently came across the speech given by the Hon. John C. McGehee of Madison County, Florida who was elected president of the Florida secession convention in January, 1861 in Tallahassee. The full text can be found by clicking here.
After his opening remarks to the secession convention, McGehee says:
… States that are now known as the slaveholding States will withdraw their political connection from the non-slaveholding States, unite themselves in a common destiny and establish another constitution.
McGehee insists that, in the US Constitution, the institution of domestic slavery is recognized and the right of property in slaves is expressly guaranteed.
McGehee recounts the growing opposition to slavery in non-slaveholding states. With the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in late 1860, this anti-slavery sentiment has seized the political power, and now threatens annihilation to slavery throughout the Union. At the South and with our people, of course, slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property.
He continues, referring to Lincoln and/or the Republicans as “this party.”
This party, now soon to take possession of the powers of government, is sectional, irresponsible to us, and, driven on by an infuriated, fanatical madness that defies all opposition, must inevitably destroy every vestige of right growing out of property in slaves.
Lest skeptics doubt the authenticity of this account, it’s recorded in Confederate Military History, Volume 11 which focused on Florida. The volume was written by none other than Col. J. J. Dickison, revered in Marion County for his military prowess and exploits, for whom a local United Daughters of the Confederacy had named their chapter, and who is honored on the “Johnny Reb” statue.
Dickison’s Wikipedia biography includes this notation of his pre-war life:
In 1857, Dickison moved to Ocala, Florida where he purchased a plantation which he named “Sunnyside”. His plantation was very successful and he became a wealthy businessman.
Slaves made Dickison into “a wealthy businessman,” easily explaining his eagerness to lead the local fight for the Confederacy. Wealthy Dickison owned slaves like today’s wealthy horse owners own horses – simply chattel property.We have Dickison’s
• slave-owning validation of white supremacy,
• his ardent support for a slave-owning economy and a slave-owning nation, and
• his indisputable capabilities as a military leader, plus
• his passionate defense of the Confederacy’s cause over 30 years after the war as reflected in his comments in his 1899 volume linked above.
It’s all the same package. Dickison was a racist. Our county government publicly honors him, and still proudly flies the flag of his racist Confederacy at McPherson Government Center.
First, let’s address Confederacy apologists who have contrived many arguments to negate the true centrality of slavery and its racism. McGehee’s words are unambiguous: At the South and with our people, of course, slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property. McGehee makes no other argument – none. The Confederacy was truly all about slavery, and slavery was all about white supremacy. Period.
Second, let’s address the Star Banner Editorial Board’s statement that the Johnny Reb statue in Marion County Veterans Memorial Park “is the proper place for the statute to stand.” Do you still believe it’s appropriate for the towering Johnny Reb statue honoring the racist Confederacy, and honoring a local plantation slave owner and white supremacist, to stand amid our Veterans Memorial Park? The Veterans Park appropriately honors those who courageously served the United States in the cause of freedom. Yet with two-storey-tall Johnny Reb, it ambiguously honors those who championed the cause of slavery. Does this really work for you? In 2017?
Bruce Seaman, President
Bridges Project Ocala-Marion County
The Clash of White Privilege and Black History
by BRUCE SEAMAN
This opinion piece was published in the Ocala Star Banner on Sunday, February 19, 2017 with the title, Privileged to Choose Our History.
At the February 7 Marion County Commission meeting, Commissioner Kathy Bryant delivered a stinging rebuke to Robert Viacancich, a white pastor (pictured above left), when he insisted that white people enjoy privilege in our society. Bryant said she never experienced white privilege growing up very poor, and therefore white privilege was a bogus claim.
As is customary for us, white people, when confronted with a narrative that doesn’t match our own experience, like the black experience, we deny the validity of that different narrative while insisting ours is correct and authentic.
One favorite tactic is to deny that race matters by focusing on one aspect to disprove the claim. That’s how we get embarrassing statements about having black friends, hiring black workers, liking black sports figures or entertainers, and even studying black history. We believe this shows how race doesn’t matter to us. It really shows that we don’t understand how race matters to black (and other) people. We do this by denying their narrative, their experience, including their different experience of history.
Commissioner Bryant wouldn’t admit that race matters and bristled at the pastor’s insistence. She chose to focus on her own economic struggle and achievement as revealing the irrelevance of race as a factor and white privilege as contrived.
Black people have risen from grinding poverty to professional and financial success greater than Commissioner Bryant. The difference is that highly successful black people
Upon entering a retail store, are scrutinized by store personnel and security;
White privilege is only recognized when you thoughtfully consider the black person’s experience, not your own. Looking in a mirror doesn’t expand your point of view or your appreciation of the life of another.
Black people who become doctors, lawyers, teachers, first responders, military officers, business scions, scientists, or even County Commissioners are still black people and have to navigate a different, challenging terrain from white people.
Rev. Viacancich was correct. He has the wisdom to realize that one narrative – the white narrative – doesn’t fit all. In fact, many different narratives beg to be heard in our society that don’t fit the majority-defined norm. These narratives come from black people, women, Native peoples, gay people, Muslims, the homeless, veterans, the handicapped, and many more. Our ability to hear these stories, to recognize and reckon with their often painful history, makes us a wiser, more just, more compassionate, more positive, and more forward looking community and society. Our willingness to silence, reject, deny, and marginalize those narratives enables us to remain narrow-minded, self-absorbed, judgmental, dismissive, and, worst of all, indifferent.
Those narratives are often ugly, tragic, and regrettable. History is like that; it isn’t always what we like to hear. Suppression and rejection doesn’t remove it or change it. However, acceptance and recognition can move and change us.
Bridges Project and Liberation Ocala African American Council will return next year to the County Commission with language for a Black History Month proclamation. We hope that our actual local black history will not be rejected as “divisive” as characterized by Commission Chair Carl Zalak. It is history, just as historical as white history. It’s our history as a community, like it or not. Can we finally accept our history, learn from it, and yield the insistence that one narrative – the white majority narrative – defines all?
There is one more white privilege: you get to choose your version of history over others.
Bruce Seaman, President
Bridges Project of Ocala-Marion County