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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.

Your Chance to Make History

You probably will recall that I’ve written before about statues in the nation’s capitol. Each state is entitled to two, and several states recently have updated theirs to be more representative of real people and a true version of the past. Florida’s two have been John Gorrie, the inventor of air conditioning, and Kirby Smith, who was the last Confederate general to surrender in the Civil War. I’ve detailed their biographies in the past, so I won’t repeat that now -- but I would appreciate your action on this.

After white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered black worshipers in a Charleston church, Congresswoman Kathy Castor decided to create public discussion of Florida’s continued honoring of General Smith. Rather to my surprise, the 2016 legislature agreed and passed a resolution to de-authorize the 1922 statue. I expected a months-long public discussion of his replacement, but word came down from Tallahassee on May 19 that the deadline for nominations would be June 10.

That is just around the calendar corner. So if you want to have input into this important image change in our national capitol, please go online and fill out the form. It has an inconveniently long address, which I’ll attempt to replicate here in LaGaceta’s ink: http://dos.myflorida.com/communications/press-releases/2016/division-of-historical-resources-requests-recommendations-for-national-statuary-hall-replacement/

If entering that into your browser doesn’t work, try going to the site for the Florida’s Secretary of State and find the Department of Historical Resources, which should lead you to the nomination form. They also provide a mailing address and phone numbers, so this shouldn’t be too onerous an obligation. And it is important. You can take your grandchildren to Washington, show them Florida’s statues, and tell them that you played a role in deciding who is there.

And the Winner Is?

Given that this is an opinion column and that a number of people have asked my opinion, I’ll be clear on who I think most deserves that honor. Lots of people – especially lots of women – merit recognition: among them are Miami environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as well as ground-breaking novelists Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings of Gainesville and Zora Neale Hurston of Orlando. Other organizations and individuals are advocating for Miami’s Ruth Bryan Owen, who was the first congresswoman from the South in 1928, and in 1933, became the nation’s first female ambassador.

I’ve scratched my head over who is most meritorious among men. My historian friend Dr. Gary Mormino suggested General Smith’s valet, a black man who accompanied his master in fighting for the Confederacy and became a physician after freedom -- but I think that story is much too complex for schoolchildren who are viewing a statue. Some have suggested Napoleon Broward, an early twentieth-century governor who was a progressive in education and sanitation – but he also worked hard to drain the Everglades, something that is anathema to modern scientists.

Then there are land developers Barron Collier and Hamilton Disston, but developers also are much less popular than they used to be. Railroad industrialists Henry Flagler and Henry Plant likewise become less admirable when one looks closely at how much money the federal government gave them to make still more money for themselves. Earlier pioneer men such as territorial governors Richard Keith Call and William Pope Duval are worth knowing about, but neither merits attention on a national level. And don’t give a thought to Pedro Menendez de Aviles: even though his St. Augustine settlement was North America’s first permanent one (1565), he also was a malevolent man who enslaved natives and killed French settlers.

If we were a few decades into the future, Tampa’s own Congressman Sam Gibbons might merit inclusion, especially for his creation of Head Start and for the University of South Florida – as well as for parachuting into occupied France on D-Day, something that few other politicians did. Governors Leroy Collins or Reubin Askew or others who led the way on Government in the Sunshine deserve recognition for these fundamental reforms that other states are emulating, but most historians like to let more time pass before bestowing our blessing. If the choices were limited to men, I’d go for the late Senator Claude Pepper, who supported Social Security and equal pay for women – but his bronzed image would not very distinguishable from hundreds of other statues of men that litter DC.

So my choice is Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955). The daughter of freed slaves, she was born in South Carolina but spent most of her life in Daytona and is buried on the grounds of Bethune-Cookman College, which she founded. Despite poverty and discrimination, she went on to a national and international career. Under President Franklin Roosevelt, she became the first African American of either gender to head a federal agency: the National Youth Administration, which offered vocational training to minority youth during the Great Depression. She was elected president of several national organizations and served on the advisory committee that implemented the Women’s Army Corps. Most impressively, President Harry Truman appointed her to the founding meeting of the United Nations, where she was the only woman of color in the entire world who had an official status. I think she would be the most inspirational to people visiting Washington and would provide a different and positive image for Florida.

Bernie’s Bad Behavior

Switching topics – but yet not quite yet. Mary McLeod Bethune lived in a world in which African Americans were the daily subjects of terrorizing by violence and threats of violence. Stepping out of one’s place could mean lynching, and most victims of discrimination just kept their heads down and accepted the status quo. Bethune did not: she registered voters – both men and women in the early 1920s, after Florida women got the vote with the federal 19th Amendment. Racists made night rides with burning crosses designed to intimidate her, but when she continued her non-violent activism, they gave up. She never advocated violence in return, and long before Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, demonstrated the political power of moral courage.

Most leftists similarly use a turn-the-other-cheek strategy, and it is the right that uses weaponry. Once in a while, though, so-called progressives bend around the ideological circle to embrace the tactics of the right. That appears to have been the case in the brouhaha at the recent convention of the Nevada Democratic Party. Supporters of Bernie Sanders allegedly threw chairs and otherwise behaved badly when they didn’t get a disproportionate share of the delegates to the national convention.

I don’t know about that first hand, but I do know that the e-mails I’ve gotten from Bernie’s campaign have gotten meaner and meaner by the week. After still another unwarranted attack on Hillary – who will be the nominee because a large majority of Democrats have voted for her – I finally clicked the “unsubscribe” button on Bernie and his associated PACs. His messages also were trying to create a faux war between Florida’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren. Both are solid feminists and progressive Democrats, and I resent this attempt to create a catfight between good women.

I used to admire him. I remember being in Vermont years ago and telling my daughter what an unusual politician Bernie Sanders was. Still, he was proud to declare himself an Independent and only recently became a Democrat – so he shouldn’t be surprised that longtime stalwarts aren’t asking him to lead the parade. And he tosses around the word “revolution” much too much, making himself barely distinguishable from Donald Trump, who also has failed to condemn supporters who intimidate those who disagree.

Democracy inherently means compromise, as people with strong beliefs must work together for the good of all. The greatest danger to democracy is people who are too sure that they, and only they, know the truth. Watch out for them.

Not a Revolution, but a Revelation

I’m going to say something that I’ve never put in print before. I’ve attended every Florida Democratic convention since they began in 1977. Some are memorable, especially in the 1980s, when both Florida and national Democrats transformed, and conservatives began to leave the party. I recall conventions in Orlando and St. Petersburg where ideological floor fights almost became genuine fights – but they didn’t. The most recent such incident was in 2004, when Howard Dean – like Bernie Sanders – was a Vermonter running for president from a nearly all-white state with a population significantly smaller than that of Hillsborough County.

Late in 2003, at the time of our state convention, we had a batch of credible candidates. In alpha order, they were retired Army General Wesley Clark of Arkansas; Senator John Edwards of North Carolina; Howard Dean, governor of Vermont; former House Speaker Dick Gephardt of Missouri; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was the eventual nominee; Dennis Kucinch, former mayor of Cleveland and the most ideologically different; Senator Joe Lieberman of New Jersey, who had been the vice-presidential nominee in 2000; and Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun (no, I didn’t support her just because she was a woman). Yes, political conventions are good for Florida’s economy, as all of these people and their staffs came and stayed for several days.

I played enough of a role back then that I knew it was Hillsborough’s turn to have the very best seats, front and center of the podium. Imagine my surprise when I went into the hall and saw our coveted place taken by a bunch of guys – and I do mean guys – wearing bright yellow t-shirts that proclaimed their support for Howard Dean. They were directly under the sign that said “Hillsborough,” but I recognized none of them, and they failed to respond – even with “hello” – when I asked who they were and where in Hillsborough they lived.

It almost turned violent as other Hillsborough leaders were treated with the same refusal to communicate. Most of us still were making up our minds on the nominee, and we resented this implication that Hillsborough strongly supported Dean. Worse, they stood on their chairs and waved Dean signs while other candidates were speaking, blocking our view. We were unsuccessful in getting them removed, and they didn’t leave until Dean and the television cameras left.

Later, I learned that our seats literally were bought by Howard Dean’s campaign, which made a large contribution to the state party in exchange for this visibility. The “supporters” actually were paid for their presence and bused in en-masse. This was a real anomaly over the years, as I don’t know of any other such case. But this anti-democratic behavior at a Democratic convention came from a man from Vermont -- and you know who else hails from there. Who would have thought? It’s so pretty and pastoral there.


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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