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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.

It's Always Good To Look Back At The Past

That is, it's good to look back in an honest way, and thus to celebrate how far we have advanced in modifying some of the worst of our human behavior.  We're growing; we're getting to the point that many of us now recognize how stupid and wrong it is to hold biases.  Sometimes, indeed, we even forget our own heritage as victims of routine discrimination. 


I'm thinking of my students in Massachusetts, where Catholicism dominates, who were shocked when I told them that there once was serious prejudice against Catholics.  They lived in an isolated bubble that sheltered them from this reality – even though I taught them just a few years after millions of people had voted against John F. Kennedy specifically because he was Catholic. 


While innocent of this knowledge, they didn't have to be told that discrimination against African Americans was real.  The two biases combined in early twentieth-century Florida, and I am again grateful to Dr. Gary Mormino, who combs archives and sends me things to pass on to you.  An Orlando newspaper ran the following item on June 10, 1916.  Here's the full story, complete with paragraphing from the original:


"St. Augustine, Fla.  Judge Gibbs of the circuit court has declared unconstitutional the Florida law prohibiting white teachers from teaching in Negro schools and Negro teachers from teaching in white schools.


"He instructed the authorities to release the bondsmen of [a] sister in charge of convent schools, who had been held on charges of violation of the law.

"He ruled the state had no power over private schools and could not legally prohibit a 'superior race' from instructing an 'inferior race.'

"This case attracted much attention owing to the arrest of the nuns, whose case was looked after by the Roman Catholic authorities."


This was a step backwards, as after the Civil War, white teachers from the North taught black students of all ages in private schools.  The removal of occupying federal troops in the 1970s made this integration much harder, and racial progress regressed for decades.  


Note also how much the judge's decision depended on the private nature of Catholic schools:  presumably it remained illegal to teach students of an opposite race in public schools.  Not that they were many public schools in 1916 Florida, as most children – both black and white – had little access to free education.  That history is part of what has gotten us where we are today.




I have a stack of stuff that has accumulated since I took a week off for my mental health (more on that later), and it's ironic that the first item I picked up relates to what I just wrote.  The Tampa Bay Times ran a strong editorial on lynching – presumably written by Tim Nickens, its editor of editorials, who used to cover politics on this side of the bay.  The editorial objected to the comment by the White House's Current Occupant, who denounced congressional hearings on his possible impeachment as "a lynching." The Times countered with piece that vividly portrayed what real lynching was like – and that it occurred here in our own backyard.  Again, I'm going to quote:


"Florida had the second-most lynchings of any state… In downtown St. Petersburg on the night of Nov. 12, 1914, hundreds of armed white men broke into the city jail and dragged [John F.] Evans out.  He was accused of killing a prominent white man.

"They put a noose around his neck and marched him to the intersection of Second Avenue S and what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.  There the mob lynched him, stringing him up from a telephone pole 40 feet in the air.  The mob fired 500 shots at his body, which was left hanging…near where Tropicana Field sits today."


Such violence was even more likely in Tampa – and in addition to blacks, immigrants and other outsiders who advocated greater equality were lynched.  I often think about Anglo Albano and Castegne Ficarrotta when I'm at the intersection of Kennedy and Howard.  That was a deserted stretch of dirt road then, running between immigrant-filled West Tampa and downtown, where the Anglo ruling class prevailed.  On September 20, 1910, a mob hanged Albano and Ficarotta from a tree on the road, doubtless because of their role in that year's strike against the cigar factories.  Someone took a gruesome photo, which you can see in a book by my old friend Bob Ingalls, Tampa:  Urban Violence in the New South.




I rarely ponder such gory things when I'm trying to fall asleep, but my mind does roam and re-roam curious stuff.  I was reminded of this when I typed "Angelo" above.  I'm far from an expert on languages, but l do know that "Angelo" is masculine, while "Angela" is feminine.  Whether a word ends in "a" or "o" matters a great deal in romance languages.  Thus, when sleep eluded me recently, I got to wondering:  how do we explain the names of western states?  We have Arizona, California, Montana, and Nevada, but we also have Colorado, Idaho, and (New) Mexico.  Can someone please enlighten me?


I also muse on "will" and "shall."  The distinction mattered to the literati until recently, but now even the best writers cut corners on this subtlety.  Most of us evade it, especially in spoken language, by using the contraction of "ll," as in "I'll" or "we'll."  It finally dawned on me the other night what the best example would be for understanding this nuance.  Think about the difference between "will you marry me?" and "shall you marry me?"


Last one.  Something made me think about the importance of places in religion.  Going to Mecca at least once is a mandate for Muslims, and a pilgrimage to Medina also is strongly encouraged.  Catholics aspire to go to St. Peter's in Rome, and they make pilgrimages to holy places in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere.  Jews feel the same way about Jerusalem and its Western Wall.  But Protestants, not so much. 


German theology professor Martin Luther began his crusade against the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 when he nailed his "ninety-five theses," or objections, to the church door at Wittenberg.  The result of his "protest," of course, was "Protestantism."  Yet although I grew up in a highly Lutheran family, I know of only two or three people who have bothered to go to Wittenberg.  Two of my siblings were practicing Lutherans who actually lived in Germany quite a while, but neither went to Wittenberg or any other shrine of Protestantism.  It's a point to ponder.




Some of you know that I've been flying around for speeches with the Bill of Rights Institute.  I'll give you the benefit of that experience:  avoid the airports in Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Kansas City.  We all know, of course, to avoid those in Atlanta and Dallas, as well as Chicago's O'Hare.  Nashville wasn't bad, but curious:  I had to present an ID for wine – and this just down the road from the home of Jack Daniels. 


Airport restaurants are running together in my mind, but one of them presented me with a garnish I'd never seen before.  A bit bigger than an olive, the three green fruits were on green stems, with a texture rather like a fig.  They turned out to be caper fruit, before it has grown big enough for what we know as capers to pop out from inside.  Kind of like pea pods, as opposed to peas.  Once I knew, I knew:  they tasted like capers.  Of course I had to look up the botany. 


Capers grow on shrubs in dry, warm climates, and Wikipedia says they are native to the Mediterranean.  I was surprised:  Hubby and I make a point of checking out what farmers are doing when we travel, and despite explorations from Morocco to Greece, we never had seen or heard of anyone growing capers.  So I checked out the bottle in the 'frig, and it came from Turkey.  I'm disappointed because I probably should boycott anything from that neo-fascist nation.  But these little fruits are fun.




For those of you who care, Hubby's brother brought him home from eight days in the hospital while I was in Minneapolis.  He's getting better, but – as you doubtless know – the health care system is not so systematic.  I can't stand to think about its bureaucrats right now, but I shall say that the experience makes me more determined than ever to emulate the rest of the civilized world and take the profit out of illness.  Repeat after me:  health care should be just like libraries, schools, fire and police departments:  simply there when you need it.



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