Lake City Florida confronting its past, present and future: Will civil rights groups join hands?
Posted July 14, 2012
By Stew Lilker
LAKE CITY, FL – On Monday evening, July 16th, Lake City Florida is once again on track to confront its past, present, and future. The president of the state Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1957, and the local branch of the NAACP were expected to be asking for two things: the resignations of Police Chief Argatha Gilmore and City Manager Wendell Johnson; and the removal of the Confederate flag/battle flag from the City logo. The SCLC appears to be standing tough. However, for the local branch of the NAACP, the jury is out. It may not be in until 7 pm on Monday evening, when the local branch is scheduled to address the City Council that its final decision will be known.
On June 28, 2012 the Lake City Reporter was emailed a copy a picture of the Police Chief smiling in the center of and surrounded by members of the Confederate Mechanized Cavalry, an organization whose members sport an emblem linking them to General Forrest, a former member and Grand Wizard of the KKK. It is unknown whether LCR Publisher Todd Wilson considered this photo an example of the "community outreach" the Chief suggested in her email to the City Manager. The LCR did not publish the photo.
Since the Observer’s publication of the article on July 3rd, "Lake City Florida: The Stars and Bars – A heritage that just won’t go away" there have been many comments and a conversation has begun primarily about two issues: has there been unequal, unfair, and racist treatment of black police officers in Lake City by the Police Chief and the City Manager; does the Confederate flag/battle flag belong on the Lake City logo, which is on every piece of City stationary and on just about every city vehicle, except that of City Manager, Wendell Johnson?
On July 3d, after the article was published, the Observer received an e mail from Police Chief Gilmore, in which she attached a photo of herself standing next to Miss Olustee 2012 and three little Ms. Olustees. Various incarnations of this photo did appear in other Lake City media including the almost daily Lake City paper, the Lake City Reporter. The publisher of the LCR, Todd Wilson, is also the president of the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.
Chief Gilmore also wrote among other things, the following: "If you write an article, that promotes racial discord within our city and you know the truth of that picture, I will not participate any longer with the Columbia County Observer… It is time to stand up for truth and not allow a few citizens to create dissention in our city."
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference weighed in
On Thursday afternoon, July 12th, the President of the state Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Rev. Reginald Gundy sent a letter to Police Chief Gilmore. The letter began this way:
As we are aware, there are always two sides to every story. Even after looking at the picture of you posing with the Motorcycle group, there is always another side. However, in all honesty, I do not agree with it, and it was poor and bad judgment on your part. With that said, there is also room for forgiveness, but even in forgiveness, it does not mean one does not have to pay for the act that they committed. I am sure, many crimes that were committed could have been avoided and in many cases, it was a dumb mistake, but the letter of the law was applied and subsequently, punishment followed. Unfortunately, this appears to be the case with this picture. But not only with the picture, but public records reveals some damaging issues as it relates to your tenure as Chief of Police.
Rev. Gundy said that the issues with the EEOC were not acceptable and that the SCLC was contacted and "asked to assist in this matter as it relates to the resignations of the City Manager and the Police Chief."
Rev Gundy stated, "I am aware of the conversation with the NAACP and community leaders… I have to conclude that we concur."
Rev. Gundy concluded, "We hope to hear from you within the next 72 hours… The right thing to do is resign. May God bless and keep you in our prayer."
Yesterday afternoon, July 13th, the Observer spoke with the state president of the SCLC, Reverend Reginald Gundy.
The Observer: Thank you for returning my call. It looks like this battle never ends.
Rev. Gundy: I’ve been fighting this battle for a long time.
The Observer: Can you tell me a little bit about what the SCLC is doing?
Rev. Gundy: I sent her [Chief Gilmore] an e mail and asked her to get back with me in 72 hours. What she did – the picture was just stupid. I can work through that whether I like it or not. What I’m concerned about is the number of people that have filed complaints. I looked at the EEOC information. I said – This doesn’t make any sense.
Then the Reverend added, "Lake City has a history. Don’t let anybody fool you."
The Observer: Another issue is the Stars and Bars/Confederate Battle flag on the City logo. How do you feel about that?
Rev. Gundy: It keeps people all messed up. The flying of those flags on their cars and stationary, you are already saying something to the community. This should just not be tolerated. I don’t see how she accepted a job like that from the beginning… It’s time for that to go. This is the 21st century. They are speaking division to the community. This is America. We are all Americans. There is only one flag that needs to be flying on there and that’s the American flag, not the Confederate flag. They will fight tooth and nail to keep it there.
The Observer: It seems that lately we’ve been going backwards. It’s sad.
Rev. Gundy: Sad, and these are the issues that we are dealing with in 2012. It’s just ignorance. The system is good at using ignorance to start fights between people in the community to keep them divided so that they can maintain absolute control.
The Observer: Thank you for speaking with me. Do you mind if I quote you?
Rev. Gundy: Absolutely, I am on the record.
The Local Branch of the NAACP
Last night the executive committee of the local branch of the NAACP met at the Richardson Community Center. Everyone is tight lipped and no one is talking about what went on. It appears that there is once again, a giant fracture in the Lake City NAACP local.
Monday, July 16th
The SCLC is scheduled to hold a press conference at 4 pm. At 5 pm, according to the most recent press release, the SCLC and Reverend Gundy will lead an "Equal Justice March" from the Community Revival Church in Lake City to Lake City, City Hall, where it is expected that Reverend Gundy will address the City Council.
Scheduled to address the City Council is Local NAACP Branch President, John Mayo.
It is unknown if the two civil rights groups will be marching hand in hand to City Hall.
The charges of on the job racial discrimination, regardless of the outcome of the City Council meeting on Monday evening, are winding their way through the Federal Courts, where, if it gets that far, American Juries will have the final word.
The question of whether or not to display the “Confederate Flag/Battle Flag” in Lake City continues to be a contentious issue.
Some regard it as a symbol of independent states against a strong national government; some as a symbol of the difference of cultures between the north and the south; and some hate groups, such as the neo-Nazis and the current KKK, have taken the flag as its own.
It is time once and for all to have an all county competition to come up with a logo for Lake City, one that shows Lake City to be the 21st century "Gateway to Florida," not the gateway to a contentious past.
Police Chief Gilmore and City Manager Wendell Johnson refused to comment.