How the Gainesville Sun perpetuates Racism
The Gainesville Sun continues to allow myths about this City to be perpetuated as history—even when its own files contradict the accounts presented as fact. The latest travesty was published today, Sunday, April 15, 2012, NOT as a book review, but as an account on the editorial opinion page. The current myth first was perpetrated weeks ago to suit another context in Lakeland, Florida.
The author Billy Townsend is well known there. He has worked as a journalist for years, in comparative oblivion. But now he has a book to sell about the so-called “Age of Barbarity,” in Florida in the 1920s. But history is not enough for him, or for the Gainesville Sun. Mr. Townsend is trying to give “legs” to his opus by comparing his version of events then to the current controversy around the killing of Trayvon Martin, by George Zimmerman.
To that end, Mr. Townsend “trashes” Gainesville history, and in the process, steps into a current local controversy about the viability of our Appointed Charter Officers/Elected Mayor and City Commissioners form of government. Mr. Townsend does not mention that change in 1926-27, but instead suggests falsely a sense of progress, when a prosecutor J. C. Adkins was elected mayor. However, according to the Gainesville Sun’s own record, Mr. Adkins was mayor in 1920-21, before the incidents lauded as important by Mr. Townsend. (See attached).
Mr. Townsend well knows however that the KKK activity was most notorious in Gainesville, not because of its racism, but because of its anti-Roman Catholic prejudice. A priest who was popular at the University of Florida (and has since been remembered on campus) was castrated in 1924. The KKK had the apparent support of the Mayor and the police chief at the time. KKK influence in Gainesville and on campus continued into the 1930s. The KKK shut down houses of prostitution, so the good ol fraternity boys would not be disturbed in their studies.
In 1926, business people decided they could no longer trust elected officials. Whether that had anything to do with the KKK is unclear. So they championed a so-called powerful manager/weak commissioner form of government. It failed at first, but then in August, 1927, less than 100 votes separated the white men who voted for the change from those who voted against among the 896 who voted for the new form of government. Based on that one vote, Gainesville’s population has been deprived of having any meaningful control over its local government.
Instead, Gainesville added a City Attorney to the powerful side of the ledger, in 1927, and since then has created four more charter officer positions to control this University town to this day. But what about the KKK? Why is Townsend distorting their story? Is it because his version of heroes and villains does not fit the facts? The KKK continued its influence in Gainesville into the 1930s, but they no longer did so through comparatively powerless elected officials, including a rotating office of the mayor.
Then and now of course much of the control depended on reporting in the Gainesville Sun. What other newspaper can claim and advertise a magazine directed to whites, and a weekly newspaper targeted to African-Americans in the historically black East Gainesville quarter of the City?
The changing of events in the present would not be as bad if not for the revision of the past. How influential is the Sun? Charles Hildreth and Merlin Cox relied on the newspaper for their now out-of-print History of Gainesville, 1854-1979. Of course, we have our own oral historian Paul Ortiz, who finds sources to tell us about the past as he believes it occurs. He loves “Age of Barbarism.”
Unfortunately, no one has written a comprehensive history of this university city since then, although there was a 48-page “history” by Ben Pickard in 1991. The Gainesville Sun, of course, limits its accessible archives to the last 20 years. Elsewhere bits and pieces are available through an archive on line. What is the Sun trying to hide?
Could it be the racism reflected in not one but two accounts this week? Each was about nameless blacks supposedly yelling “Trayvon Martin” as they beat up first a nameless drunken white, and then a Good Samaritan. Both were written by Chad Smith, former City Hall reporter, now promoted to the police beat. Fortunately, the veteran Cindy Swirko has written an account about the second incident which suggests that the yelling seems to exist only in the mind of a white police officer.
Until the print edition of this newspaper fades, history here will be whatever its editorial page voice Ron Cunningham (1983 to the present) says it is.
DISCLOSURE—The undersigned is running for Mayor of Gainesville, FL in 2013 as a one-issue candidate. He advocates a Charter review and change to restore power to elected officials rather than the appointed City Manager, City Attorney, GRU Director, and three others.