Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City, Florida confronting its past, present and future: Will civil rights groups join hands?

LAKE CITY, FL – On Monday evening, July 16, 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 until 7 pm on Monday 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 of the Police Chief's photo of her smiling while surrounded by Confederate Mechanized Cavalry members. The Cavalry is 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 3, "Lake City Florida: The Stars and Bars – A heritage that 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 stationery and on just about every city vehicle, except that of City Manager, Wendell Johnson?

On July 3, after the article was published, the Observer received an email from Police Chief Gilmore, in which she attached a photo of herself standing next to Miss Olustee 2012 and three little Ms. Olustees. This photo's various incarnations 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 dissension in our city."

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference weighed in

On Thursday afternoon, July 12, 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 reveal 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 13, the Observer spoke with the SCLC's state president, 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 email 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 backward. 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 to 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 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.

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 comment.


Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On July 16, 2012, B Walters wrote:

If Grundy and the rest of them don't like Lake City there is other places to live.


On July 16, 2012, Robert Lloyd, Floridian wrote:  Confederate flag issue again

I would like to thank Police Chief Gilmore and City Manager Johnson for doing their jobs and not getting involved in petty politics. The motorcycle and historical group mentioned in the newspaper column on July 14, "Lake City Florida confronting its past", consists of good citizens of Florida (I know many), and I believe they have never been involved in any misconduct or breaking of the laws of our fine Florida communities. Why would a police chief not talk to and give a smile to people such as these? Would the chief also not talk and smile to individuals of the NAACP, no matter their political beliefs? I would hope so.

Historically speaking, many Florida men and women lost their lives in defending Florida in the War Between the States. Very few people supported slavery (North or South), and few even owned a slave (maybe 3%). The war was over the right of a state to govern itself and people gave their lives in defense of it. I doubt the typical citizen would go and lay down his life in defense of the right of a rich man to own a slave. With this in mind, have the history books lied to us?

We should have the flags of our state's history proudly displayed in all county and city logos.          God bless, Robert Lloyd


On July 16, 2012, N.D. wrote:  Get your hands off my heritage

First, The Observer needs read a history book or two before it allows another article to be written regarding this issue.  The Confederate Battle Flag and the Stars and Bars are two, completely DIFFERENT flags, neither of which represent the KKK, and only one of which is on the Lake City logo (that would be the Confederate Battle Flag).  The Stars and Bars refers to the 1st National Flag of the Confederacy and the Confederate Battle Flag was a regimental flag, carried into battle, thus the name, Confederate Battle Flag (duh).  They both represent the Confederate States of America, which makes them American flags.

There are documented photos of the KKK marching with the Stars and Stripes and the Christain flag, but I don't see the NAACP trying to get those flags removed, or asking anyone to resign from office after having their photo taken in front of them.

The Mechanized Cavalry is not a "motorcycle group."  They are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a heritage organization, established in 1896, dedicated to preserving the history of the Confederacy and the veterans who served the Confederacy, and are recognized as a not-for-profit organization by the US Government.  They are a "veteran's" organization, no different than the Vietnam Vets or the Korean Vets (a lot of whom also ride motorcycles, btw).

Confederate Veterans are American veterans. The Confederate Battle Flag is more than appropriate for the Lake City logo, considering a major battle of the War Between the States took place near there.

Stop trying to take someone's heritage and twist it into something evil, just because you want to get rid of it. Apartheid existed in South Africa for many years after slavery was abolished in this country, but I don't see anyone hounding people to remove all instances of the African flag from society.

BTW, there were many documented Confederate Veterans who were black and whose descendants are very proud of their service.  You should interview a few of them instead of wasting column space on the NAACP and their hate-filled crusade.                                                                N.D., A Proud Confederate Descendant


On July 16, 2012, RG of Ft. Meyers wrote:  Confederate Emblem

Your article on the confederate "battle flag" being on city vehicles, papers etc in Lake City is beyond ludicrous. First of all the flag depicted is not the Stars and bars it is the battle flag or naval jack. To write and advocate its removal is an absurd move to demolish Columbia county history, Lake City history, and American history. I would venture to say that it would be very damning to forget the 2,500 casualties of both north and south at and around Olustee. I believe the logo to be very proudly American, and to bend to what are no more than complaining groups who should take a authentic history class before advocating or dismantling anything is truly unjustified and un-American. I would believe that both said groups who are advocating the flag removal from logos need but drive throughout Florida and see what problems really exist. I may live way south of Lake City but I can surely tell you that the flag of which many Floridians served is not the problem. And if people want to move into the "21st century", pull yourself up by your bootstraps and move on.       RG      USAF Retired


On July 16, 2012, Sergio C wrote:  Kudos

I love your publication.  I sure hope your impact on this community is significant.  I support you and understand your Motivations; you are a truth seeker.
Blessed be your heart.                   Sincerely,  Sergio Candelaria


On July 16, 2012, D Anthony wrote:

I read your recent article regarding the Confederate flag in Lake City.  The fact of the matter is there was a historically significant occurrence that took place near here that American history knows as the Battle of Olustee. It occurred in 1864, and involved roughly 10,000 American men—5,000 on each side. Regardless of which side of the field they fought on, all the participants were Americans, so both the flags carried in that battle are "American flags", and the citizens of Lake City certainly have the right to re-enact this historic event, which was the largest land battle fought in the State of Florida. This is a historically significant educational event that certainly should be promoted and encouraged by the community and the local government.

The article asserts that retaining the historical flags on the logo is tantamount to depicting the "Gateway to Florida" as being tied to "a contentious past". Celebrating the historical significance of this area certainly does not equate to promoting a "contentious past".

Mr. Lilker further states "some hate groups, such as the current KKK, have taken the flag as its own." On the Internet, one can come up with a Klan website in which the following is stated, "Imperial Wizard Simmons openly declared that there was but one official flag of the Ku Klux Klan and that was the Stars and Stripes."

The perpetuation of this myth is based upon a lie used to drive a wedge of division between Americans. It is unfortunate that agenda-driven organizations continue to perpetuate falsehoods in an effort to paint the South as evil while the North is portrayed as the peacemakers. That sort of lies just continues to perpetuate what we are witnessing now in Lake City and elsewhere--a spirit of divisiveness.


On July 16, 2012, Dr. Majstic wrote:  "Birth of a Nation" (1916) has struck again!

Ladies and Gentlemen:  I see that D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" (1916) has struck again!  The only widely distributed image seen of hooded Klansmen with a Confederate Battle Flag at the time, appears in this movie, and is symbolic  of  returning Confederate Veterans, who found their homes laid waste, their property in ruins, and their families, wives  and children barely managing to survive the depredations of Scalawags and carpet-baggers, who descended on them en masse, during Reconstruction.  These men, ragged and starving, were paroled convicts, in the eyes of the Union, without any Civil Rights or legal recourse to law courts, since the States of the South, had ceased to exist, becoming Military Departments under Military Law and Military Jurisdiction.  Their money was worthless and their life's work, destroyed. They had risked their lives and bled and suffered for their State, and had nothing but grief to show for it. When they or their families were cheated or wronged by scalwags or carpet-baggers they had no place to seek redress.  As with most of the symbolism in Griffith's picture, flag shown was intended to label them as Southern Veterans.

The Blacks ( poorly represented) do not represent Black troops, but rather the scalwags and carpet-baggers, released on a prostrate South by the victorious Union.  These symbols have become stereotypes over the years for racial bigotry and hatred, without ever having been understood. The Flag is not a symbol of the Klan.

The Black Union Soldiers represent not Black soldiers of the Union Occupying forces, but rather the agents of the oppression of returning Confederates, stripped entirely of their Civil Rights without legal redress to Civilian Courts.  The Griffith Film, was intended to depict a resurgent South, firmly ensconced in the Union, thanks to hard work and sacrifice, motivated by the same principles which encouraged them to take up arms in the first place, and proclaim those principals under the Flag which symbolizes them.  While some proudly proclaim their leaders for the principles they lived, has not the South, the right to do the same?



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