For Those Who Think Their Vote Doesn’t Count

“As racists rewrote Florida’s history as well as its constitution, it was forgotten how well black people in Florida had taken to electoral politics. According to Carter Brown’s study, Florida’s Black Public Officials 1867-1924, nearly 1,000 black people, the great majority of them Florida-born ex-slaves, held office following the Civil War. By profession, they ranged from farmers and laborers to craftsmen and preachers.”

Source: Finding Florida The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman Grove Press, 2013 p. 297

Red Letter Date: First Black Elected to Florida Legislature since Reconstruction

Fla. Rep. Joe Lang Kershaw
Fla. Rep. Joe Lang Kershaw

On November 5, 1968, Joe Lang Kershaw made political history. He became the first black since Reconstruction to win a seat in the Florida Legislature.

Kershaw was born in Miami, graduated from Florida A&M University and spent a good part of the Great Depression and World War II mentoring black youth and officiating football games in the Miami area.

A civics teacher, Kershaw served 14 years as a state lawmaker, representing a Miami-Dade County district as a Democrat. His biggest accomplishment? He passed legislation that repealed a state tax on cane pole fishing, a popular form of entertainment and food source among many Floridians.

Photo Credit: State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory

Happy Birthday Frederica Wilson

Wilson
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson

On November 5, 1943, Frederica Wilson was born in Miami. She is 74 and currently represents Florida’s 24th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Known throughout her district as “The Hat Lady” because of the large and colorful hats she typically wears to honor her late grandmother. Ms. Wilson began her career as an educator, having once worked as a principal Skyway Elementary School.

Her political career began on the Miami Date County School board, followed by a stint in the Florida House of Representatives and then the Florida Senate. Ms. Wilson ran for Congress in 2010, when U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek D-FL, stepped down to run for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Besides her political career, Rep. Wilson takes great pride in the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence, a mentoring program she founded when she was on the county school board.

Photo Credit: Official U.S. House of Representatives Portrait

 

Remembering John “Gus” Plummer, a ‘Distinguished Gentleman’

Florida State Rep. John "Gus"Plummer R-Miami
Florida State Rep. John “Gus”Plummer R-Miami

Imagine a determined black man running for political office who plays off a well-known political name and somehow against all odds wins election. No, we’re not taking about The Distinguished Gentleman, the movie starring Eddie Murphy.

On November 4, 1980, it happened in real life. John “Gus” Plummer became  Florida’s first Republican African American .

Plummer was a former school bus driver in Miami who got involved in politics. He ran as a Republican, hoping to represent a Miami district in the  Florida Legislature. He was a political unknown in a largely black Democratic district, but Plummer had one thing going for him — his last name. It was the same as that of a prominent white Miami-Dade County family.

Plummer ran a stealth campaign. He refused interviews and didn’t use or allow his photo to be taken. He did capitalize on his name. His campaign slogan: “The family name Plummer speaks for itself.” And it did, at least for one term.

Two years later, Plummer the incumbent lost his bid for re-election.

Source: Black Republicans: New Faces in By John Kennedy Sun Sentinel July 27, 1998

 Photo Credit: Courtesy of Florida Archives

Red Letter Date: Redistricting Propels Blacks to Congress

 

 

 

Brown
Brown

On November 3, 1992, three black politicians are elected to Congress from Florida in newly drawn minority majority political districts. Democrats Corrine Brown from Jacksonville, Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Carrie Meek of Miami  became the first blacks elected to Congress since Reconstruction.

Meek
Meek

Of the three, only Hastings is still in the Congress. Meek retired, which opened the door for her son, Kendrick Meek, to run and win the seat.

Hastings
Hastings

Brown  lost her bid for re-election in the 2016 primary, ending a 24-year career amid a federal indictment and changes to the longtime boundaries of her district.

 

Source: The New York Times The 1992 Elections The New Congress; Democrats Promise Quick Actions on a Clinton Plan by Adam Clymer Nov. 5, 1992

Photo Credits: U.S. House of Representatives, Portrait Photos

Red Letter Date: Black Republicans Win Big, Serve Briefly

 

November 2, 2010 was a big day for black Republicans.

West
West

In the year of the Tea Party, Allen West was perhaps the movement’s biggest star. He took on a Democratic incumbent and won, becoming the first black Republican elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction.

In that same election cycle, Jennifer Carroll, a black state Representative, won the job of Lieutenant Governor, a first for a black politician. She ran with Republican gubernatorial nominee Rick Scott, a multi-millionaire and Tea Party favorite.

Both flamed out early in what could have been extended political careers.

Carroll
Carroll

West only served one term in Congress. He sought re-election in what he thought was a more favorable district but lost in a close race to Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Carroll resigned four months after the election when law enforcement officials questioned her about ties to a purported veterans charity organization at the center of a multi-state racketeering probe.

No charges were filed against Carroll, and two years later she agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for failing to accurately report income she received from the internet cafe industry before the 2010 election.

 

 

 

Red Letter Date: Joseph Hatchett Makes History in the South

Justice Joseph W. Hatchett
Justice Joseph W. Hatchett

Joseph W. Hatchett is a man of many “firsts.” This one celebrates an accomplishment no black man before him in the South had ever accomplished.

On November 2, 1976, then Florida Supreme Court Justice Hatchett ran a successful campaign to win election and keep his seat on the bench. Gov. Reuben Askew had appointed Hatchett to state Supreme Court in 1975.

The fact that Hatchett became the first African American to run and win a statewide campaign in Florida is remarkable. The fact that he was also the first in the South to accomplishment is extraordinary. Unfortunately, Hatchett remains the only African American in Florida to ever run and win a statewide race.

Photo Credit: State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory

Welcome to My Blog

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

I am at a point in my life where I can relate to Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston, if you don’t know by now, was a legendary author, anthropologist, playwright  and journalist and an icon of the Harlem Renaissance. She loved black people in the South, particularly in the Sunshine State. She lived an extraordinary life.

In no way am I comparing my meager talents to hers — that’s not my point here. It’s the age-thing that is gnawing at me. Growing older may be a blessing, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

In Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd —perhaps the best biography on Ms. Hurston — the author describes Ms. Hurston’s views as  the famed writer approached the twilight of her distinguished life.

“When I get old, and my joints and bones tell me about it,” she once said. “I can write for myself, if for no one else, and read slowly and carefully the mysticism of the East, and re-read Spinoza with love and care. All the while my days can be a succession of coffee cups.”

I’ve spent most of my adult life writing for newspapers and magazines, including EBONY, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Florida is now the place I call home. I didn’t expect to stay in the Sunshine State, given all the weirdness that comes with the abundance of diversity, sunshine and promise.

Florida always promises. It’s part of the state’s charm and bluster. What I found fascinating is the state’s unique history, particularly involving its black citizens.

For example, the first black man to set foot on the peninsula was not a servant, but a conqueror who owned slaves. The land itself became a haven for runaway slaves, long before the Underground Railroad was even recognized. And don’t think that black Floridians simply wilted in the face of harsh Jim Crow laws.

Folk do things differently in Florida. The state’s rich history shows us that. It took a while for me to appreciate what many generations of black Floridians already know. I’m just glad I have the chance to explore and experience it.

Is age anything but a number? Or does getting old set limits on boundless imagination?  I’d like to think of myself as someone who will pursue what I love as long as I live. There are still, unfortunately, moments of doubt. As a longtime writer and budding blogger, I am eager to relate to Ms. Hurston’s words.