I live in a rural county of Florida. Lake County used to be a big deal in the Florida orange industry until several freezes wiped out much of the groves. It has changed quite a bit in the last 27 years since I first visited family here which led me to move here in 1987. It is a beautiful area and before I go any further let me say that I love living here but just as many other counties across our country it has a dark past.
See, Lake County at /one time had a national reputation for violence towards African-Americans. The Ku Klux Klan was very powerful throughout Central Florida and Lake County was no exception, which leads me to the point of this blog post, last night I read in one of the local magazines. This is the kind of magazine that is written for the sole purpose of flattering advertisers. There was an article where a notorious case of racial hatred was mentioned and the slant of the articles sent me into an absolute foaming at the mouth fit. Here’s why.
In 1949 there was a case where four young African- American men were accused of raping a young woman. Two of the suspects had recently returned for military service and had caught the eye of local Klansman and their supporter Sheriff Willis V. McCall. I am not certain form what I have read if McCall was a card-carrying member of the KKK but he was a violent racist man who was eventually suspended from office after winning several reelections over a African American prisoner being kicked to death. McCall resigned in 1973 after many years of alleged corruption and abuses of power. This Groveland Four case became national news for several reasons. Two of the men were in Orlando at the time of the alleged rape and another was 17 miles away. The story itself is long and involved and included the participation of Harry T. Moore a civil rights activist that worked to gain African American voters and Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Untied States Supreme Court Justice. After the arrests of the four men area residents demanded that they be given up immediately to be lynched. The sheriff refused so angry mobs of citizens went to Groveland and shot into homes and set many on fire. The residents of Groveland had been told that they were coming and many were loaded into pick-ups and taken out of town before the rioters arrived.
There are so many facets to this story I could go on and on but the most vile occurrence was when Sherriff Willis V. McCall was transporting two of the defendants from Raiford State Prison back to Lake County for their retrial, the first trial having been overturned by the Florida Supreme Court due to pretrial publicity. Sherriff McCall pulled over on the side of the road and shot the two handcuffed prisoners. McCall says they tried to escape but the one that survived tells a different story, which you can read here.
The article that I read yesterday made McCall sound like he was in some way doing his duty as sheriff to protect these young men. The author sis say that McCall was racially- biased and she did say that the young men were brutally beaten to obtain “confessions” she did not say that the young men were handpicked because they were considered “troublemakers” by Lake County standards because two of them still wore their military uniforms at times and were considered “uppity”. She did not mention the murders of the two young men on the side of the road. She did not mention the razing of Groveland. She mentioned that McCall tried to “placate” and angry mob by arresting the four men. She also mentioned that the KKK stirred up trouble through rallies and demonstrations. Does a night of terror where people’s homes were set fire and shots were fired qualify for as a rally?
She also suggested reading the book “The Groveland Four: The Saga of a Legal Lynching by author Gary Corsair. I happen to have this book on my bookshelf and it tells a much different story than her article. I purposely have not named the magazine that published this article because the editor and many of the staff are friends and I am going to take this up with him directly.
The reason I get so very angry about such white-washing of the truth, no matter how well-meant is that in my opinion if we do not stick to the facts of our history, no matter how abhorrent, how do we raise our young people so they will be better than ourselves and our forefathers?
Books to Read: