Controversial Hall of Fame list pulled
By Lloyd Dunkelberger, Herald-Tribune
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott’s office sought to distance itself Thursday from the embarrassment of a list of prospective inductees to the new Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame that originally included six former members of the Confederate army, a former governor convicted of intimidating black citizens and Scott himself.
After questions arose over the records and lack of diversity of the 22 people on the list — all white men and former governors with military service — state officials announced that the issue had been dropped from the agenda of next Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
If approved, the Hall of Fame members would have been formally inducted on Veterans Day in November and honored with a plaque on the wall at the state Capitol.
The Hall of Fame is based on a new state law that created the honor and allowed the state Department of Veterans’ Affairs to come up with the list.
The law calls for honoring veterans who have made a “significant contribution” to the state during their time in the military or afterward.
But word of the initial nominees immediately sparked complaints, with critics charging the list did not reflect the diversity of the state’s military past. And some of the proposed Hall of Fame members had questionable histories.
The list included six governors who served with the Confederate army during the Civil War: Madison Starke Perry; Abraham Kurkindolle Allison; William D. Bloxham; Edward Aylsworth Perry; Henry L. Mitchell and Francis Philip Fleming.
It also included Gov. Marcellus Lovejoy Stearns, who served in the Union army during the Civil War.
But Allison was the most controversial. He was governor when Union troops occupied Tallahassee in May 1865 and served six months in prison with other Confederate officials after the war.
According to the Florida Handbook, Allison was convicted of “intimidating Negroes” in Quincy in 1872 and served six months in jail in Tallahassee for the crime.
Fleming, the 15th governor of Florida from 1889-93, backed legislation that restricted rights of African-Americans, including poll taxes and “literacy” tests designed to keep blacks from voting.
The list drew immediate outrage from veteran civil rights advocates.
“It’s obvious they didn’t do their homework. If they did, they’re totally insensitive to race,” said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who has spent more than 50 years as a civil rights advocate, including serving time in jail for her efforts. “This just serves to flame the fires of racism.”
“Does the state of Florida want to honor a person who was convicted of intimidating black people?” Joyner asked.
Joyner also questioned whether it reflected the “rank and file” veterans in the state if it was limited to only those who were governors.
“It’s not representative of the veteran population of this state,” Joyner said.
Aides to Scott and the three state Cabinet members discussed the list on Tuesday. At the time, the list included Scott, who served 29 months in the U.S. Navy as a radar technician, and the Confederate soldiers.
On Wednesday, a new list was circulated to the Cabinet aides without Scott, who asked for his name to be removed, but with the Confederates.
But by Thursday afternoon, after the Herald-Tribune reported on the list, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs began rapidly backing away.
Mike Prendergast, executive director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, said it was only a “work in progress,” even though it was scheduled for the Cabinet’s consideration next week.
“This is a working document and does not reflect the direction of the governor or the Cabinet,” Prendergast said in a statement. “We are committed to including a diverse array of highly distinguished veterans of all eras who served Florida and the nation.”
Aides to the governor said a new list will be substantially different from the lists proposed this week.
“We’re confident that a list that all Floridians will be proud of will be the list that ultimately goes through,” said Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for Scott.
Joyner questioned the motives behind the original list, saying it was self-serving for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, headed by Prendergast, a retired U.S. Army colonel and Scott’s former chief of staff, to put Scott on the list.
“The person who’s making this recommendation owed his job to the governor,” Joyner said.
Some military veterans said there are plenty of minority candidates that could be honored, including Daniel “Chappie” James, a Pensacola native and the first African-American to serve as a four-star general or even Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor who had a long career in the Navy.
For more historic diversity, some suggested Josiah Walls, who was the first African-American to serve in Congress from Florida. Walls, who was born a slave, was forced to serve in the Confederate army but later joined the Union army where he served with distinction.