I thought Gadsden County didn’t suffer from racial issues. I was wrong.
My first impression was skewed somewhat by the black people I encountered when I first came here, who were fully integrated into the county’s power structure. The first elected official I met here was Gadsden County Commissioner Eric Hinson, who attended former Herald Publisher Nick Bert’s retirement party (which was also my welcome party).
Hinson represents District 1, which includes Havana. I told him that afternoon that I sensed a lack of racial tension here that I had felt in St. Augustine, where Colleen and I had lived before moving to Gadsden County. St. Augustine has a long, brutal history of racism and oppression. Martin Luther King was arrested there, James Brock dumped acid into a pool filled with young black and white protestors at the Monson Motor Lodge, and freedom riders marched in the streets underneath the smoke form crosses burning in the yards of black families whose children were among the first to attend integrated schools there.
Today, the city still struggles with its racist history. A couple of years ago a new park was named after the former mayor who refused to have police protect civil rights protestors during the summer of 1964. But the town square where the Klan gathered that summer now hosts a monument to the civil rights leaders who joined King there that summer.
When Andrew Young came to town for the dedication of that memorial, local leaders of every color came out to celebrate, as they do every year for the MLK Day Celebration. What we’ve seen in the past year is that Gadsden County’s racial divide is less obvious than St. Augustine’s, but just a real.
When The Herald reserved a table at an MLK event in Chattahoochee a few weeks ago, Colleen was one of only a hand full of white people to attend. A great many of the events held here in Havana seem to attract only white people. People of different races seldom clash, but they rarely mix in the social events we’ve witnessed.
One black community leader put it this way: “My kids don’t go to the same schools as your kids. We don’t go to the same church. We don’t shop in the same stores.”
Herald advertising executive Leisha Dillard is black and also attended the MLK festival. In its wake, she, Colleen and I have started talking about ways to bring people of different races and cultures together in our communities. We’ve also been meeting with community leaders of all races, and plan to meet with more, to gather their input on events that might have a community-wide attraction.
We would love to hear your ideas. Two that we’re already working on are a Barbeque Block Party and a car show that embraces classic cars, cars with big rims, and great sound systems. We’re hoping you cam expand our list.
Tell us what you think would bring us all together.
By Mark Pettus, publisher