Ignorance breeds racism, Black history dispels it

by M.E. Griffith Guest columnist

There is an incontestable lesson taught by the reemergence of racial turmoil pervading our nation: Ignorance breeds racism. Clearly, Lake County is not exempt. Some, including a few elected leaders, participate in the propaganda and prejudice on display.

They indulge in nonsensical conspiracy theories, tweet gun-toting threats against protestors, and insist on supporting bills that attempt to camouflage the violation of our First Amendment rights. All thinly veiled attempts at the marginalization of African Americans. But is this who we truly are?

Many will answer with a resounding “no!” Yet, are we faithfully working toward a unified future? Or do we simply attend a couple of marches and pay liberal lip service on Zoom to those who already sing in the choir of equity? I put to you that it isn’t enough. That we must find a way to honor Lake’s African American experience, beginning with the many contributions made at the turn of the 20th Century, through Jim Crow, to today. And what better way to celebrate Black History Month?

Now is the time we petition our county commissioners to dedicate a portion of the Old Court House — the current Lake County Museum – for the creation a Black history gallery.

I hear the kick back and war cries from the right, already. “Why you wanna go diggin’ up the past?” Oh really? Well if the past should be buried why do I see the rebel flag flying high on a pole posted in the bed of your lifted pick-up? We pledge “One Nation Under God” but you still showcase a banner that symbolizes the fight to fracture and continue the divide in these United States? I consulted with Lake County educator Dr. Arcolia Wakefield about the matter. Her family has lived in this county for five generations.

“This flag is a constant reminder of the torture, terror, and tragedies that forced the separation of families, judicial inequalities and the deliberate socioeconomic division…” At the close of our conversation, Wakefield reminds me the real tragedy is that I had to ask what she thinks when she sees someone sporting a Confederate belt buckle or baseball cap in the year 2021.

Our schools have already begun to cauterize the open wound of denial that continues to fester. Textbooks that incorporate Black history are the norm and some schools offer a Black history course. Natalie Heitman, who oversees the secondary social studies curriculum advises that “Black history is American history and Lake County teachers strive to design learning experiences for all students that are authentically, culturally, and ethnically inclusive.”

However, we need an opportunity to set the record straight for all ages. A Black history museum edifies with artifacts. It offers first-hand accounts with pictures and videoed interviews of those who have lived through Jim Crow and desegregation in this county. It showcases primary documents, such as court records, letters, and decrees. In short, it exhibits the undeniable truth.

More importantly, a Black history museum begins the long overdue healing process. According to Dee Daily-Griffin, a Black history instructor at Mount Dora High School, “It would be like taking 50 steps forward considering Lake’s past.”

These exhibits would not only clarify the truth about a racist sheriff and the many injustices experienced here; moreover, it would celebrate the innumerable contributions African Americans have made. Those whose cheap labor cultivated the citrus farms that prospered our county for decades. Influential leaders like Thurgood Marshall who will forever be linked to here through the Groveland 4. And our own homegrown successes such as S.T.E. Pinkney, an educator who would become Eustis’s first black mayor in 1975, and so, so many more.

It has not escaped me that a Black history museum requires more than is laid out in this column. There is much planning and expense. But all good things begin with an idea. Let’s rip the band aid off the gaping wound of discrimination that hides our truth by celebrating the achievements and sacrifices of African Americans who have resided here for generations. Let’s demand our County Commission work on leaving a legacy of legitimacy for all of our children and grandchildren. The cost will be much weightier if we don’t.

M.E. Griffith is an English language arts teacher at Mount Dora High School.




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