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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.

In Re:

Arming teachers: What about teachers, especially in religious schools, who truly believe “Thou Shalt Not Kill?”

Re the rate of evolution, which is assumed to be very slow: Have you seen a dog chase a car lately? That was common in my youth. Dogs learn and evolve, and people who assert that animals cannot reason are just wrong.

Re the Times’ story last Sunday about drug use among first responders: Exactly who is in charge of 911? I’ve been on the receiving end of very poor 911 service, both at home and in the car, and on both local roads and the interstate. To whom do I complain: Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa, the highway patrol or what? Who’s in charge?

Along with that: We elect a county sheriff, but not a county mayor. The City of Tampa elects its mayor, but not its law enforcement chief. Aside from LaGaceta’s smart audience, how many voters understand that? Especially the county’s system is a holdover from the 19th Century, and now that we have more residents than eight states, Hillsborough County should be electing its top dog. Then we would know where the buck stops.

And speaking of the 19th Century, let’s stop using “Jim Crow.” Not even we historians can explain how that nomenclature got started, so it’s time to stop. Just call it what it was: legal segregation of the races. We called in “apartheid” in South Africa. Using “Jim Crow” is not cool: it’s an obfuscation.

Favorite sign in a professor’s office when I was young: “Eschew obfuscation.”

Not original with me, but interesting. Re vegetarianism for sharper minds: “Sheep have been eating grass for millennia and remain the dumbest animals on earth, whereas your average wolf can get into law school.”

Fifty Years Ago – The Great Teachers’ Strike of February 1968

Well, technically it wasn’t a strike. Because public employees are not allowed to strike in Florida, teachers all across the state simply resigned in February of 1968, thereby closing down the schools. Fed up with uncertain revenue from the legislature and the governor, they forced the state to recognize that the era’s expectations of Space Age education was a farce without funding. The only fiscal certainty was that salaries were low: A 1967 report showed that Florida teachers were paid $7,200 less annually than the national average – even less than their colleagues in neighboring Georgia and Alabama. They worked under difficult conditions in overcrowded classrooms without air-conditioning.

Especially for teachers who were married to other teachers, walking out meant a great financial sacrifice. It was the nation’s first such statewide strike, and in addition to ordinary classroom teachers, some principals and other administrators walked out, too. At the time, almost all administrators were men, some of whom never returned to the school system. At the local level, I remember especially the late Braulio Alonzo, who went on to be a national leader and now has a school named for him.

His name reminds me that Hillsborough took the lead in welcoming teachers whose home language was Spanish or Italian. The strike also solidified educators by race, as until 1965, Florida had separate teachers’ organizations for African-Americans and whites. Despite the US Supreme Court’s ruling against segregated schools in 1954, fourteen years later, in 1968, many people still resisted the civil rights movement, and Hillsborough schools were far from fully integrated.

After tens of thousands of teachers demonstrated their solidarity by filling Jacksonville’s giant Orange Bowl for a statewide rally, the legislature finally responded. Governor Claude Kirk – the first Republican to hold that office since Reconstruction – lost his 1970 reelection partly because of that issue, as teachers endorsed his Democratic opponent, Rueben Askew. (Kirk also was a buffoon, and in a precursor of Donald Trump, brought a much younger and foreign woman into the Governor’s Mansion.)

Pushed by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of teachers, the legislature spent the next years developing systems for collective bargaining in both K-12 and higher education. Florida became a national leader, not a follower, in unionized faculty with rights protected by mutual contract. One seldom-noted result was that whimsical actions by school board members – almost all of them male back then – were less likely because unit-wide contracts and pay scales made it much more difficult to single out a particular teacher for privilege or punishment. Especially for women in rural counties where isolation meant a lack of power, collective contracts proved helpful in preventing male administrators or school board members from sexually harassing female teachers.

“Sunshine” legislation under Governor Askew in the 1970s also meant financial disclosure for school board members, and some men resigned rather than reveal their sources of income. The late Cecile Essrig set the precedent for women on our school board in 1969, and the still-active Pat Frank joined her in 1971. Current voters have elected women to every seat on the seven-member board. Unfortunately, that never will be the case with legislators, certainly not during my lifetime. In legislative branches at both the state and national levels, only about 20% are women. I think that will improve with this year’s election, but the half of the population that is female will wait a long time before we have half of all lawmaking seats. Why? Because that’s where the money is.

1968 – The Worst Year of My Political Life

Hubby and I came to USF in 1972, four years after the great teachers’ strike, so I know about it from our friends in education, not from personal experience. But 1968 was a traumatic year for the nation and for us. The same February that Florida teachers struck, Hubby separated from the Army. We moved from Washington back to Boston, where we had gone to graduate school. I worked at US News & World Report magazine in Washington and soon had a Boston job with an investment firm that advertised in US News. Hubby spent the last six months of his service in Pennsylvania, at Valley Forge General Hospital, and Harvard would not let him back in for another six months because they suspected he might still harbor the tuberculosis that he got in the Army.

So he was home and I was on my way to work when I heard the radio news of Martin Luther King’s assassination in April. I called Hubby as soon as I got to a phone, and that scenario repeated itself in June, when Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated. We bought our first television to watch the first soft landing on the moon in July, so we had a TV in late August, when the national Democratic convention met in Chicago. I have a picture seared into my mind of being at the ironing board, with tears streaming down my face as a Chicago cop aimed his bully club at CBS reporter Dan Rather.

That fall, other people elected Richard Nixon. Some of our Harvard friends refused to vote at all – as if anyone cared about their holier-than-thou attitude – and in 1969, students went on strike, protesting the interminable Vietnam War. Fires were set, and people arrested. Some friends left for Canada. Hubby stayed home and read philosophy – but he did go down to Washington for the 1971 march of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

By then, I’d left the investment firm to teach high-school history, and almost all of my students opposed the war. It hurts to remember this, but I’m going to tell you about Billy Wood. He was a B student who very much wanted to be an A student, and he took the world more seriously than the world deserves. You may recall that Buddhist monks in southeastern Asia protested our presence there by setting themselves on fire, and of course, we talked about that as part of the social studies curriculum. One day after school, Billy went into the woods with a can of gasoline and burned himself to death. I am forever grateful that his parents didn’t blame me; in fact, they said I was his favorite teacher and asked the superintendent to bring me as an honored guest to the funeral.

I think of those dear students when I see the Parkland kids today. Mine are in their sixties now, and I’m sure that most spent their adults lives working for priorities different from those in place back then. Institutional change is real on all levels, but especially the police are infinitely more professional now. A big part of that improvement, I think, is that both law enforcement and education officials are much more inclusive of women than they were then. That’s a good start, and maybe the next generation will get it right. I have hope.


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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