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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.

An Amazing Thing That I Did Not Know

No, I'm not going to talk about Jeffrey Epstein, at least not until we know more.  Instead, I'm going to talk about something that I didn't know until this week – and a major omission, especially in Southern and African-American history.  My sister in Arkansas is a successful businesswoman who makes more money than I, but she volunteers a lot of time in preserving history.  Right now her biggest cause is to ensure that the newest casino franchise goes to the Cherokee tribe because they inhabited our home area until the 1830s, when they were driven out on the Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.  We grew up not knowing any of that, nor other minority history, or anything beyond white military and political men.  That is not what is most important, as the nation is slowly discovering.


The copy of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly that she sent included an article with a bland title about the Register of Historic Places, and I intend to skip it – until I realized that it was about something unfamiliar, the Julius Rosenwald Fund.  He was a founder of Sears, Roebuck (more on that later), and in 1917, at the request of famed Booker T. Washington, he established a foundation that did tremendous good for black families in the segregated South.


Many school boards at the time did not provide any education at all for non-white kids, and not even very much for whites.  The upper class sent their children to private schools, often boarding schools, while public ones had terms of just a few months annually – during the dead of winter when child labor was not needed on farms.  That was the way that all-white, all-male school boards wanted it.  With poll taxes that kept poorer men from voting – and with women having no voting rights at all – these school systems were designed to create a population that was only barely literate.  This was especially true of black Southerners. 


So after visiting Booker T. Washington's school in Tuskegee, Alabama, Julius Rosenwald began emulating it for blacks throughout the South.  Between 1917 and 1932, his program completed an astonishing 5,357 school buildings in 883 counties in fifteen Southern states!  What an astonishing impact, and why did I not know this?




Although the article didn't say so, I think Rosenwald must have taken some lessons from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who began endowing libraries around the world just a few years earlier.  Carnegie Libraries were supposed to use the same architectural plan -- even though, as I've written before, it made no sense for them to dig basements in low-lying Tampa.  Rosenwald's schools did not impose basements, but the foundation followed Carnegie's model in other ways, and schools were supposed to use the same blueprints of six classrooms with an auditorium, library, and office in the middle. 


Also like Carnegie, the Rosenwald fund insisted on a level of local contribution in land, money, or labor so that the community would feel invested in the school.  Some of the Arkansas photos look a great deal like East Hillsborough's recently preserved Glover School in Bealsville, and I'm going to have to follow up on that.  I'll be adding to my reading list a book that, although it is not exclusive to Florida, was published by the University Press of Florida in 2006.  UPF has published one of my books and I get regular e-mails from them, but I didn't know that either.


So Rosenwald himself:  He was born during the Civil War in southern Illinois to a family in the retail clothing business.  He apprenticed with extended family in New York, married, and joined his wife's brother, Aaron Nusbaum, in buying a half-interest in the new mail-order enterprise, Sears, Roebuck and Company, in 1895.  Rosenwald bought out Nusbaum in 1902, and after Richard Sears resigned in 1908, Rosenwald became president of Sears, Roebuck. 


And yes, I know that there are periodic assertions that Alvah Roebuck was black, but I've found no evidence of that.  He was born in Indiana to parents who had emigrated from England, so it is possible that he had African ancestors in the British Empire, but no source confirms that.  Still, the situation of both Jews and blacks as oppressed minorities was real, and sadly, remains so today. 


Florida Poly What?


Remember back in 2012, when Republican J.D. Alexander dominated Tallahassee and insisted on a new university in Polk County?  He got it, but no genuine academic would agree that the current Florida Polytechnic University merits the appellation of "university."  This is especially true because of recent news – news that I read only in an online higher-ed service run by volunteers.  As far as I can tell, the mainstream newspapers have chosen to ignore this disgraceful story.


The Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) never has been particularly friendly to unions, but it recently ruled in favor of the United Faculty of Florida, saying that Florida Poly must rehire three faculty members – all of whom happen to be women – who were unfairly fired last year.  One, an engineering professor, has moved out of state and said she will not return, but like the other two, she is entitled to back pay and benefits.  Also like the other two, her position was eliminated in a "reorganization" after she complained that administrators were not prioritizing student needs.


But here's the real shocker:  the other two eliminated positions were the SOLE counselor and the SOLE librarian.  Both are hesitant about returning, but probably will do so because they care about students.  Administrators have justified getting rid of the one counselor because they are outsourcing that to Baycare – but again, WHAT?  A kid on the verge of a mental breakdown in Lakeland should somehow figure out how to do the paperwork to go to a company based in Pinellas?  Have these administrators not heard that mental health is an issue these days?


And one librarian!  Who accredited this "university" and how big was their payoff?  Sure, the giant Space Odyssey building is eye-catching from I-4, but that doesn't mean it's educationally credible.  Instead, it seems that the redneck cowboys of Imperial Polk ride again.


Our Three Thinking Guys


You may remember that Charlie Crist started out his career as "Chain Gang Charlie," promising to restore the 19th-century system of prisoners who were chained together while working for no pay – often not for public purposes, but instead contracted to profit-making men.  He defeated our old friend, Democratic Senator Helen Gordon Davis, with that slogan.  He went on to win election to statewide offices, including governor, as a Republican, but after finally getting a clue about real life, switched parties in 2012.  In 2016, Pinellas County – traditionally a Republican stronghold – elected him to Congress as a Democrat.  You could read more about this in his book, The Party's Over:  How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat.


He defeated Republican David Jolly, a Washington lobbyist with vague roots in Pinellas, even though Jolly was the incumbent congressman, elected in 2014.  And now, miracle of miracles, Jolly is telling voters to vote against his former party.  The strength of his recent words is simply amazing; Jolly told people that opposing Trump is not enough, and instead the entire Republican Party should be voted out.  His exact words:  "Beat every single one of them." 


Jolly went on to warn his former Republican colleagues:  "If you actually think that the Second Amendment was envisioned to protect gun rights in this moment of national tragedy.., then you're fundamentally, constitutionally ignorant.  And if you know that's not what it protects, but continue to do nothing, you're worse than constitutionally ignorant, you're a scoundrel.  All I can ever think of in this time when I see Republicans do absolutely nothing is, your time is coming."


The third thinking Floridian is Joe Scarborough.  He was elected from Pensacola in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich's takeover of the US House.  Truly part of the radical right, he earned a 95% rating from the American Conservative Union.  He sponsored bills to cut Medicare, to eliminate several Cabinet departments, to drop out of the United Nations, and other hair-on-fire ideas.  Although he was reelected without opposition in 2000, he resigned just five months later, ostensibly to spend more time with his children. That probably was not unrelated to the fact that he divorced in 1991 and remarried in 2001.  He now is on his third marriage, to Mika Brzesinski, who co-hosts his cable TV show.


Perhaps the end of marriages gave him an opportunity to think carefully about his 1998 vote to impeach Bill Clinton.  In any case, the more mature Scarborough, who has successfully led MSNBC's Morning Joe for many years now, is akin to David Jolly and Charlie Crist in being willing to admit bad past choices.  In 2017, he announced on Stephen Colbert's late night show that he was leaving the Republican Party because of Donald Trump.  Although he lives in the New York City television market now, his roots are in Florida – and he has seen the light.  May it spread.



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