Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

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

This is the photo of the Mechanized Confederate Cavalry and Chief Gilmore.

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.

• Read more about "Ride With Forrest" here.
• Read more about the "Mechanized Cavalry" at Olustee here.
The Mechanized Cavalry web site is here
Graphic: The Columbia County Observer

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."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On July 3, 2012, RB from Lake City wrote:

Really, are you kidding me?

Why have a controversy over the Stars and Bars, or Confederate Flag? Or complain about it being on the City of Lake City logo, or displayed anywhere else for that matter. Why state it is a "heritage that just won't go away". It is our heritage, a part of American history. Do you erase it from the history of our country, just because you don't like it?

What's next, cancel the Olustee Festival? I mean, displaying all those Confederate Flags and uniforms must be distressing to so many people.

The NAACP states "the straw that broke the camels back, a photo of Lake City's African American Police Chief posing with the confederate Mechanized Cavalry at the Olustee Festival". Does the Chief look threatened in the photo? Do any of the members of the group look like they are filled with hate towards African Americans?

Mr. Mayo complained of a jacket which read "Ride With Forrest" and stated that Forrest was the founder of the KKK. Perhaps Mr. Mayo should study Forrest's biography a little better, as he was not the founder of the KKK, but was rumored to become a member in 1867. Forrest is told to be instrumental in dissolving the KKK in 1869, although local groups remained active. Forrest, before his death, spoke publicly, promoting racial reconciliation. Forrest was best known for his term in the Confederate Army as a General and accomplished warrior.

So Mr. Mayo, what exactly is your problem with the photo? Is it possibly your own inability to accept racial reconciliation?


On July 10, 2012, Brett Moffatt from Tennessee wrote:

I read with interest your article on the police chief and Confederate Mechanized Cavalry.

There was a lot of misinformation in the article.   First, the flag shown in the pictures and the one I'm sure the NAACP is complaining about is not the Stars and Bars. I find it offensive that people are so uneducated that they think it is a symbol of hate, which it is not. It is a Battle Flag, totally different from the Stars and Bars. Can someone who incorrectly identifies the flag really know anything about it?

The reference to Gen. Forrest as the founder of the KKK is also totally false. Can people who purport to know history, yet make mistake after mistake, be trusted to have an honorable discussion on historic questions?

Let's look at what I shall call the always complaining group and what they stand for.

The NAACP stands only for those who have liberal viewpoints. They believe they have all the answers and even if they are wrong they rarely admit it. They look to force their viewpoint on everyone, even in their own communities.

I know of an African-American who carries a Battle Flag around with him and tries to bring people together, instead of alienating people. He has been criticized, even threatened.  In many communities he has found African-Americans who do not view the Battle Flag negatively.

The people of Mississippi voted to keep the Battle Flag as a part of their state flag.  The big story there was the 1/3 of the African-Americans who cast their vote in favor of that flag. Of course, the media wasn't smart enough to see that story, or more likely, they killed it because it doesn't fit their liberal agenda.  I'm tired of the games people play, how they 'hate' one flag, while another one even more oppressive is allowed a free pass.

I think your community needs some tolerance, and perhaps some diversity training, courtesy of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Just remember, when people say one flag stands for hate that the majority of the population does not feel that way. They will try to sow seeds of discord, but hopefully enough people in your area can see through their agenda of lies and hate and bring people together to celebrate all people, not just a chosen group.

Please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.          Brett Moffatt


On July 10, 2012, HK Edgerton of Southern Heritage 411 wrote:

Dear Stew Lilker, All one had to do is to look at the comments of the NAACP President Mayo about the Honorable General Nathan Bedford Forrest founding the KKK and understand that he knows nothing about history. And certainly he should have asked the Honorable Nelson Windbush of Florida ,whose grandpa like the other 42 Black men who rode with Forrest , and who Forrest said that there were no better Confederates than these men.

As the immediate past President of the Asheville, N.C. NAACP and the President of Southern Heritage 411, I have concluded that the NAACP has not only turned into a hate organization, but one that has chose to fill it coffers by promoting a Yankee lie.

Dr. King tried to warn his peers not to attack the Confederate Flag and that Black folks had accepted a bad check, marked insufficient funds for climbing into bed with those from the North. The NAACP should have listen instead of trying to turn Black folks into traitors of our homeland, the Southland of America.

God bless this courageous Chief.      HK Edgerton


On July 11, 2012, BP wrote:

All the hate and just because she is a Black Women Chief Of Police.... Shame on all of you haters. I didnt realize that everyone that has negative crap to say about the chief have the time to spare with Obama and his birth certificate still in question. Hate and more hate. Chief if you ever find yourself reading this crap, you just focus on doing your job. That hate will not end in our lifetime.


On July 11, 2012, Jack Adkins wrote:

Calling the Confederate Battle Flag a symbol of hate is preposterous.  The flag has never stood for hate or racism.  The KKKK flew the flag for a period of time but they flew the Union Flag aka Stars and Stripes much longer.  Is the Stars and Stripes a symbol of hate and racism?  If the NAACP wants to find hate and racism in this country, they need look no farther than their own mirror.


On July 11, 2012, Jimmy L Shirley, Jr. wrote:

First of all, how is it that with so much internet information out there, the Confederate Battle Flag keeps getting called "the Stars and Bars"?  I shaunt belabour the point. It is not the Stars and Bars. Please learn its proper name and just what the Stars and Bars is.

Second, what is with this "won't go away" stuff. Is there any reason it should go away? Why not instead just simply accept it and roll with it. Why is the NAACP so determined to eradicate the likes of folks like myself, and those SCV members in the photograph? After all, in the infamous 1991 resolution condemning not just the flag, but those persons who love and embrace it, they so stated "the tyrannical evil symbolized in the Confederate Battle Flag is an abhorrence to all Americans and decent people of this country, and indeed, the world and is an odious blight upon the universe" and also "in the vile conception of the Confederate Battle Flag or State Flags containing the ugly symbol".

I am an American whose ancestry is traced back to 1690 on this side of the Atlantic and I am a decent man. So, the NAACP has the right to call me tyrannical, evil, abhorrent and an odious blight?  These sound to me like the words of a hateful organization.

You contacted to members of the local NAACP for interviews. Did you even bother to contact the local Sons of Confederate Veterans camp for an interview to apply balance and fairness to your article? That would have been the right thing to do. And what the chief said, "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,"  was absolutely wonderful. Why is it that the NAACP wont do the same? So then, just who are the merchants of hate?   Think about that!           Jimmy L. Shirley, Jr.


On July 11, CS from Lake City wrote:

I believe that anywhere outside Columbia County and the Olustee Festival, especially, the Stars and Bars/Confederate Flag - they are, in fact, interchangeable - says, "These people can't move on after 140 years. They still think they were on the right side of history. Wow! Who wants to be on the losing team for 140 years?!?"

I'm ashamed that Lake City has this image on its stationary.

I'm glad we have embraced history, experiential learning, and community fellowship at the Olustee Festival, but every other time of the year needs to be about Today's community and their ever-blending and changing image. To embrace such a hate-infused image for So LONG is not good for growth, unity, or sustainability, in my opinion. "A picture tells a thousand words."


July 12 post: On July, 11, HK Edgerton forwarded the following from an e mail to his supporter:

The Police Chief of Lake City, Florida was the motivation for my email article this morning title "NAACP has turned into a hate organization". She must have been made privy to that message, and called the Honorable Dewey Barber of Dixie OutFitters this afternoon asking if he would introduce me to her, and furthermore if it would be possible for me to attend the Lake City, Florida City Council meeting next Tuesday [Monday] night, and speak to them and a gathering of community folks after in her behalf. The NAACP will be there asking for the Council to fire her.

I have not made that call as of yet because I will need to raise more funds in order to pull it off. This fine young Black woman not only made an honorable Stand for the South, but also said all the right things for doing so in the newspaper accounting, and the photo of her with the SCV Mechanized Calvary is priceless and reminds me of the many that I have taken with so many fine officers across the land. I just hope that those who read this message to you will respond in kind and help me to return the favor to her that she so bravely presented to our cause.


July 12 post: On July, 11, HK Edgerton forwarded the following from an e mail to another supporter:

I Spoke to the Chief of Police of Lake City, Florida.

My mama , to my knowledge, the only Black to ever receive a Confederate State Funeral, and who has a North Carolina Order of the Confederate Rose Heritage Award presented annually in her name, use to tell all her children that everything that you do is a reflection on your family, your race, your community, and importantly yourself. Because of this, you must strive to always do good.

On Tuesday evening, July 11, 2012, I spoke to the Chief of Police of Lake City, Florida, the Honorable Chief Argatha Gilmore. She is the first woman, and first Black to serve in this position in Lake City, and I could not be any more proud of her than I was when the City of Ashevile, North Carolina, my home town, promoted the first Black officer above the rank of sergeant, an issue that I fought so very hard for as President of the Asheville Chapter of the NAACP. And as proud as I am now that Asheville now has its first Black Chief of Police. And as proud that I am sure that mama is as she looks down at Chief Gilmore from Heaven.

I found the Chief to be first of all a person of deep Christian values, and a person who is committed to serving all the people of her community fairly. I found her to be somewhat baffled at the blinded sided attack on her person at the lies directed at her for doing her job as not only the Chief, but also as an Ambassador of Goodwill as she greeted those who would attend the Olustee Festival. Her crime in doing her job was to pose for a picture with the men of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanize Calvary. Surprising for me in a town that rakes in large sums of money from the re-enacting community as they re-enact the Battle of Olustee  annually. I am convinced that these folks whether they wear the Confederate Grey, or Union Blue will not be happy about the pernicious attacks leveled at Chief Gilmore or be happy to return to a place that would be supportive of the hate filled message and libel of the officials of the NAACP.

The Chief ask of me to come before her Council, and community not to defend her, but to help bring some clarity about the Southern Cross, and to help bring her community together with understanding in brotherhood. This NAACP should look down the highway to Cross City, Florida where the Honorable Commander Joe Sparacino of the Dixie Defenders Sons of Confederate Veterans reached out to the Black community, and the Honorable Angela Carter, President of the NAACP, and President of the Martin Luther King Peace March, not only accepted his hand, but for the last two years made a place for the Sons in their Parade, and to my delight would have the Sons lead that Parade to the delight of their citizenry just this past year.

I have a dream that one day the sons of former slaves, and the sons of former slave owners will sit down at the Table of Brotherhood touted Dr. Martin Luther King. Well, Chief Gilmore and the Mechanized Calvary, just like Commander Sparacino and President Carter of Cross City have prepared the Table of Brotherhood for this community, and I pray that I get to stand before them, God willingly, to say so on Tuesday [Monday]evening. May the Almighty God bless Chief Gilmore and the community that she loves and serves so well.               HK


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