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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Really Neat Surprises

I spoke to the Micanopy Historical Society last Saturday afternoon. Hubby and I were standing in a long line for lunch at the town’s only café (good food, but seriously understaffed), when I saw someone who looked liked former Florida First Lady Adele Graham. As she came closer, I spotted the big “Gwen” button on her lapel, and we had a nice conversation. I don’t know what Adele was doing in Micanopy: a younger companion, worried that she had been gone from her table too long, interrupted us. But she looks great, is as gracious as ever, and is excited about her daughter’s campaign for governor.

She particularly wanted to talk about Betty Castor’s support for Gwen Graham, especially in response to gubernatorial rival Philip Levine’s comment that “she’s never worked a day in her life.” Betty pointed out that in addition to being an attorney, Gwen raised three children, volunteered at schools, and did all the other work of motherhood – plus she has the experience of serving in Congress. He is the former mayor of Miami Beach, and after making millions in the cruise industry, expanded to other investments. At age 55, he recently became engaged to a much younger woman and says he is looking forward to becoming a father. So, I’m not saying that I won’t support him if he wins the Democratic nomination -- but Betty is right to remind people that “women’s work” is work.

And there was another nice surprise. One of the people for whom I autographed a book was Marilyn Kershner, an early president of the Hillsborough Association of Women Lawyers. We reminisced about campaigning for Mary Figg, Fran Davin, and other women who pioneered in local politics – and she was astonished to hear that Pat Frank recently won still another of the elections she has faced since her first victory in 1972. As you doubtless know, these have been a variety of jobs, from the legislature to the county commission to her current position as clerk of the circuit court. Marilyn and I particularly rejoiced that this last victory was a triumph over ageism, as well as sexism.

That leads me to speak of Nancy Pelosi’s eight-hour speech to the US House on the potential deportation of young adults, who despite being brought to the US illegally as children, now are contributing hugely to our economy. I won’t get into DACA – you know what I would say – but want to emphasize the political ability of 77-year-old Pelosi. She used an obscure rule that allowed her to keep the floor as long as she wanted, outsmarting young and clueless House Speaker Paul Ryan. Still beautiful, her gentle, reasoned voice is exactly what we need instead of the shouting we too often hear – but some mistake graciousness for weakness. Nancy Pelosi’s critics are mostly young men, and they should look to our local Pat Frank.

Micanopy and More

You’ve probably seen the exit sign for Micanopy as you drive I-75 between Ocala and Gainesville, but it’s less probable that you know it is the oldest municipality in Florida. Like many other old towns, it was inhabited by Seminoles. The Florida Territory incorporated it in 1821, the same year that the Territory itself came into existence. It was named for a chief who lived there, whose name is spelled in at least four ways, but we’ve settled on “Micanopy” for the town. He was born near St. Augustine around 1780, when Florida was under the governance of Spain, and he died in 1849 in Oklahoma, which then was Indian Territory. That was because he led and lost the Second Seminole War.

The town’s other early celebrity was Moses Levy, who has a historical marker in the middle of Micanopy’s well-designed parking space. Another nice surprise came recently when I mentioned the Micanopy Historical Society to my friend Leslie Stein: She majored in history prior to developing a very successful career as a lawyer, and she wrote her master’s thesis on this, Florida first Jewish family. I’m going to extrapolate a bit from my book for the University Press of Florida, They Dared to Dream: Women Who Shaped Florida History. Except in this case, we don’t know much about the woman who founded the family:

“In 1817, two years before Spain ceded Florida to the United States, Moses Elias Levy bought some 60,000 acres of land in west-central Florida that he had not yet seen. He made his transaction in Cuba… A Sephardic Jew, Levy also had lived in Spain, Morocco, and the Virgin Islands, and he hoped to create a utopian colony for Jews in the wilderness of Florida. He arrived in 1818 – presumably with a wife whose name goes unrecorded, as biographers focus on their son, David Yulee Levy…

“When other Jews did not follow them to Florida, Moses Levy bought slaves and developed a sugar plantation of some 36,000 acres near Micanopy. Mrs. Levy apparently had other children, but David was the star. Born in 1810 on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, he went to boarding school in Virginia and returned to be a primary leader of pioneer Florida. He was a member of the first constitutional convention in 1838, and when Florida became a state in 1845, he became not only Florida’s first US senator, but also the nation’s first Jewish senator.

“Just fifteen years later, Florida seceded from the nation, and he dropped out of politics to concentrate on providing sugar for the South. Ammunition also was stockpiled in the Levy mansion, and a Union naval force therefore burned everything to the ground in 1864. The Citrus County Federation of Women’s Clubs preserved a six-acre site in 1923 and donated it to the state in 1953. The exhibits at the mill ruins are uncommon in that they demonstrate both agricultural and industrial work done by African-American women, as women not only cut cane but also refined sugar.” And speaking of sweetness and of changes in agriculture:

The Orange Blossom Trail No More

Hubby and I rarely take the same route when we are going to and from somewhere, so we came home via US Highways 441, 98, and 301. You may know that 441, which runs in Florida from the Georgia border to Miami, also is called “The Orange Blossom Trail.” Unfortunately, I saw nary a one. Not only were there no blossoms in this time of the year when the air used to be perfumed with sweet scent, but not even one grove out of bloom. I paid attention from Ocala south and saw not one citrus establishment. A few trees in people’s yards, but not a bit of commercial citrus.

Part of the Dade City canning plant long owned by the Lykes family is abandoned, but another part did have steam arising on this Saturday evening, so I assume they are processing oranges. There also were several dozen trucks around, which probably bring in citrus from somewhere else – Mexico? If we can’t have Mexicans picking our groves, we are instead going there for fruit? Or to Cuba or other Caribbean islands? Yes, I know I could research it, but it’s not my job. Ask Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam as he campaigns for governor.

Unlike Orange Blossom Trail, Tamiami Trail, and Alligator Alley, US Highway 301 never had an appellation that I know of. It is an old road, however, a diagonial route that grew off of the nation’s first north-south highway, appropriately numbered US Highway 1. Portions of US 1 are known up north as the Boston Post Road and in the South, it’s Dixie Highway. Northern parts, in fact, made up the “post” road before there was a post office, as horses carried correspondence between Virginia and Boston. Like most other highways, both US Hwy1 and US Hwy 301 were paved in the 1920s as cars replaced horses. Now, loosely, US 1 is paralleled by I-95, while 301 more or less runs along I-75 -- and in states north of us, I-85, which we never extended into Florida.

But I single out Highway 301 because I want to talk about the fact that it long has been a death trap, especially the stretch from Zephyrhills through Thonotosassa. I hate this as an environmentalist, because much of it runs through preserved land along Hillsborough River State Park – but, I’m sorry, there’s just too much traffic there for a two-lane road with very few passing opportunities. Drivers get impatient and pass even when it’s illegal, and my fear of dying in a head-on collision is profound. Can someone take a look, please?


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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