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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.

Did You See?

I depend on a news site, Daily Kos Elections, for information that takes a long time to be picked up by the mainstream media – if it ever does.  Perhaps by the time you read this, our lazy local paper's partner, the Miami Herald, will have looked around its own backyard and told you what Daily Kos has been telling me.  As of Monday, the top two of many contenders in the recount for Florida Congressional District 20 were separated by five votes.


This district is east of Boca Raton, where rich people live, and goes out into the Everglades where poor people live.  It was represented for decades by Alcee Hastings, who was born in 1936 during the destitution of the Great Depression.  He nonetheless earned degrees at Historic Black Colleges:  Fisk University in Nashville, Howard in Washington, DC, and our FAMU.  Conservatives assumed that this African American was corrupt and threw garbage at him throughout his career, but Democratic Governors Rueben Askew and President Jimmy Carter – men whose honesty never was questioned -- appointed Hastings to judicial positions. 


He went from there to the US House and died in office last April.  Republican Governor Ron DeSantis delayed an election to replace him as long as possible, thereby depriving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of a dependable vote from an impoverished place.  To me, it is little short of scandalous that the Tampa Bay Times has not covered this race for one of Florida's 27 districts in the House of Representatives – the people who make decisions that affect every aspect of our lives.  The non-paper has plenty of pixels for sports.




You may or may not remember that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who could find evidence of fraud in last year's presidential election.  A Republican, he was sure that Trump had been illegitimately ousted from the White House.  A year later, he has paid up on his pledge – and the money went to a Democrat who proved that a Republican voted twice. 


In our most recent election, the 17-year-old son of Virginia's newly elected governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin, also twice tried to vote.  Election officials refused him a ballot:  he was not registered because the minimum age for votes is eighteen.  That minimum had been 21 until 1971, when liberals succeeded in amending the US Constitution:  the era's young men objected to being drafted to fight and die, while not being allowed to vote.


Even after age requirements had been explained to him, the Youngkin kid tried a second time -- arguing that his friend who also was seventeen had cast a ballot.  Let's hunt down that friend and charge him with voter fraud.  There seems to be lots of it, mostly committed by those who, as Shakespeare said, "protest too much."  In truth, Trumpsters know that voter fraud is real because they are the fraudsters.




You doubtless read about the uproar over the denial of the right of experts at the University of Florida (UF) to testify in cases involving their field of expertise.  Although their bosses are terrible, I do want to credit Tampa Bay Times writers Divya Kumar and Lawrence Mower for their excellent reporting on that threat to academic freedom.  Because it was so widely covered, I won't spell out the details – but I so wish that I could talk with Hubby about it.  It was a big win for United Faculty of Florida (UFF), of which he was a founder and president. 


The reporters did a good job of giving the historical context of threats to academic freedom in Florida, going back to the notorious Johns Committee.  That legislative committee was named for its chief witch-hunter, Senator Charley Johns of Starke, and the publicity almost killed the University of South Florida before it was born.  A racist right-winger, Johns lost his 1954 gubernatorial election to the more liberal Leroy Collins, but his very conservative constituents returned him to Tallahassee as a senator.


The Senate allowed him to create the Johns Committee in 1956, the same year that USF was chartered.  (That chartering was largely because of liberal Democrats, especially the late Congressman Sam Gibbons and State Representative Terrell Sessums).  While USF remained an idea still on paper, however, the Johns Committee destroyed any fledging academic reputation that Florida may have had by attacking professors in Gainesville.


Charley Johns was a bit of a latecomer to the fascism that infamous Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Republican, spread on a national level earlier in the decade.  These and other conservative men had a peculiar obsession with homosexuality, as well as with the "communists" who wanted to obey the 1954 US Supreme Court ruling on racial integration.  As with McCarthy and the national scene, calmer heads eventually prevailed with Johns and Florida.  Nonetheless, the new USF initially had a hard time recruiting qualified professors:  no one wanted to move to Tampa and become a victim of political persecution. 


That image was fading when Hubby took his 1972 Harvard doctorate and gave USF a chance.  (To be honest, weather was a big factor; after years in Boston, we wanted to thaw out.)  At Gainesville, though, administrators apparently forgot that they had been the target of dictatorial legislators in the 1950s, and in the 1970s, administrators there again put academic freedom in the crosshairs. 


That was a tumultuous time, with many national protests about civil rights and the Vietnam War.  Some professors joined student demonstrations in Gainesville, and UF fired Ken McGill because he argued for free speech.  He held a Yale doctorate, and I've always believed that less-qualified administrators were influenced by personal jealousy. 


His firing was the catalyst for the formation of United Faculty of Florida.  The Megills mortgaged their house so that Ken could organize fulltime, and a few years later we celebrated the new statewide faculty union with champagne.  I so wish now that Hubby could see the strong body that UFF has become, with its continuing and effective devotion to intellectual liberty.


One thing puzzles me, though:  why did Florida State University (FSU) not experience the same turmoil as UF?  My speculation is two factors:  (1) FSU is in Tallahassee, where people in government have a greater cognizance of the dangers of demagogues, and (2) until 1947, it was Florida State College for Women (FSCW).  The Johns Committee of 1956 was less than a decade after its gender-integration, and uprisings from the new Seminoles probably seemed less probable than in the Gator Swamp.  But the creation of FSU is another topic.  Let me know if you want to know.




My friend Lu Dovi graduated from FSCW in 1944, when it still a college (not a university) and was limited to white women.  Lu, too, was a victim of free speech violations:  FSCW President Doak Campbell (for whom its stadium is unjustly named) berated her because she attended a meeting with students from Florida A&M.  Those letters stood for "Agricultural and Mechanical," which indicates the vocational intent of this Tallahassee school for African Americans.  Unlike the higher education available to whites, however, A&M was coed.


Lu's 99th birthday will be on Friday, November 19, and at 10:00 AM that day, the City of Tampa will unveil a historical marker dedicated to her great-great grandparents.  John and Ellen Jackson pioneered Tampa in 1847.  He was a surveyor who named the first streets, while she was a co-founder of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and recruited nuns to establish the Academy of Holy Names. 


The event will be where their home was located, on the northeast corner of Franklin Street, where it intersects with Zack Street.  The program will include an explanation of street names, and Sacred Heart invites you to join us at the church for coffee and cake after the dedication.  Let me know if you can come, so that we know how big a cake to order.  I hope to see you there!




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