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.