Lake City Florida: The Stars and Bars – A heritage that just won’t go away

Posted July 3, 2012

By Stew Lilker

LAKE CITY, FL – The controversy surrounding the Stars and Bars, or the Confederate Flag, is a controversy that has hounded Lake City for decades. The Stars and Bars, emblazoned as part of Lake City’s logo, rides on every City vehicle and is part of Lake City stationery. The recent controversies surrounding the City Police Chief and the City Manager have culminated in the Local Branch of the NAACP asking for the Chief and City Manager’s resignations. The straw that broke the camel’s back, a photo of Lake City’s African American Police Chief posing with the Confederate Mechanized Cavalry during the Olustee Festival. The Lake City Branch of the NAACP is being supported in its efforts by the State chapter of the NAACP.

A letter obtained by the Observer and dated July 2, 2012, purports to be from the NAACP and is addressed to the City Council. It asks for the resignations or termination of both Police Chief Gilmore and City Manager Wendell Johnson. The letter claims that the community has lost "all confidence in Chief Gilmore and the Police Department." The letter also claims that black and white Lake City police officers are treated differently.

The letter concludes:  "We supported Chief Gilmore when she became the new police chief but after several incidents of poor decision making and judgments, we believe that continuing to turn our heads, is not going to solve the problem, and City Manager Johnson has done nothing to address any of these problems. We wish Chief Gilmore and City Manager Johnson much success in their endeavors but we believe that Chief Gilmore has not managed the Lake City Police Department well during her tenure here, and neither has City Manager Johnson."

Early yesterday evening, your reporter spoke with the Lake City/Columbia County branch president of the NAACP, John Mayo, as well as the chapter’s second vice president, Debra White; the Florida state president of the NAACP, Adora Nweze; and lastly, LCPD Chief Argatha Gilmore.

John Mayo, Lake City/Columbia County NAACP President

"Mr. Mayo, thank you for taking my call. I understand that you just went to the Lake City Reporter and showed them a letter where the NAACP is asking for the resignation of Lake City Police Chief Gilmore and City Manager Wendell Johnson?"

Mr. Mayo said, "That’s true. We are concerned with the impact that she is having on the black employees in the city Police Department. She fired three and five quit. Then there is a picture that is circulating with a bunch of guys and the Confederate flag. One of the jackets said, "Ride with Forrest." Forrest was the founder of the KKK."

The Observer asked, "Do you think that she knew what those guys were really about when she stood there and was photographed with them?"

Mr. Mayo answered, "You would think that she had sense enough to know. Maybe she never heard of Forrest, but everybody knows the Confederate flag is nothing but a hate symbol. We know that. A lot of people ask what we have against the Confederate flag.  It’s a hate symbol. That’s what we have against it."

Mr. Mayo continued, "I will be bringing this up at the July 16th City Council meeting. At that time I plan to present a resolution to them asking for her resignation and that of the City Manager. I think both of them have to go."

The Observer followed up, "Why are you asking for the resignation of the City Manager?"

Mr. Mayo answered, "The City Manager is allowing her to do this. He is standing back and letting her do this… He knows about it. I am sure she is running it by him. Whatever she wants to do, he seems to go with it."

Lake City is now the defendant in at least three federal lawsuits with former LCPD officers.

Mr. Mayo concluded, "And one more thing. Somewhere along the line this is going to cost the taxpayers money. I don’t know if they have insurance to pay for the lawsuits, but eventually it is going to cost taxpayers money."

Debra White, 2nd Vice President of the local NAACP branch

The Observer, "Ms. White, if you had one thought you would like to share, what would it be?

Ms. White responded, "That it is time to take action against her. She has impacted the lives of 8 African American police officers."

The Observer asked, "We have all seen the picture of the Chief and the Confederate Mechanized Cavalry. Do you think she really has any idea what the stars and bars stand for?"

Ms. White not hiding her anger, answered, "She has a degree. Come on — come on. She truly understood. She asked for them to take the picture."

Adora Nweze, President of the Florida NAACP

The Observer, "Ms. Nweze, Thank you for returning my call."

President Nweze, "You’re welcome."

The Observer asked, "Are you supporting the local Chapter?"

President Nweze answered, "Yes, definitely. We reviewed several documents. One had to do with the pattern of not only the firing, but the resignation of African American police officers. The pattern was extremely disturbing. Anyone else with that kind of firing practice would leave themselves open to scrutiny as to why African Americans cannot remain on the job in that police department. Something is going on there. It’s not right."

President Nweze continued, "Then to see the picture of her in the newsletter of the Confederate Mechanized Cavalry. It is very disconcerting that a police chief in uniform would do that, would take that kind of picture."

The Observer asked, "Do you really think she understands what she was doing?"

President Nweze answered, "I’m not sure whether she did or not. If she understood what she was doing and did it anyway — that’s scary. If she didn’t understand — that’s scary as well. Either way you go, she is dead wrong."

President Nweze continued, "The City Manager needs to fire her. If the manager is not doing his job, they have to call him into question. He is the one that has the oversight over her. And if the City Manager can’t do it, the City Council needs to act. If the City Council can’t act, then the people will have to determine how they are going to deal with them."

The Observer had one final question, "Just one more thing. What do you think of the Confederate Flag flying on the logo of the City, which is on all city vehicles and all city stationery?"

President Nweze concluded the conversation, "We tried to deal with this years ago. As long as the Confederate Flag remains on the seal of Lake City, nothing is ever going to change."

Police Chief Argatha Gilmore

Sometime after the photo was taken of the Chief and the Confederate Mechanized Cavalry, she e mailed the photo to the City Manager. The note in the e mail read:

Community outreach…:)
This was great contact!

Police Chief Gilmore paused to return the Observer’s call as she was headed to visit someone in the ICU.

The Observer: "Chief, thank you for returning my call."

After a few cordial remarks the Observer asked about the photo, "Did you understand what the Confederate Mechanized Cavalry stood for?"

Chief Gilmore responded, "I didn’t Google them. I was at the parade. I saw people. It was the Olustee Festival. A lot of people had on Confederate things. I started at the beginning of the parade line and greeted and shook hands with just about everyone on that line. I don’t know what their mission is. Yes, I saw the rebel sign. Everybody was wearing Confederate stuff on that day. I greeted people as the Police Chief of Lake City Florida."

The Chief continued, "The people that I greeted that day were not showing me hatred. What I see in that picture — The Bible tells me, how can you tell me you love God, who you’ve never seen and hate your brother that you see every day? When I look at that picture, that’s what I see."


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