The State of Florida has taken the admirable step of creating a Veterans Hall of Fame. Much in the spirit of previously established Women’s and Civil Rights Halls of Fame, the state plans to honor heroes and heroines from Florida who have fought in defense of our nation.
In an era in which most government proposals are stratified along political lines, one would think that a measure as simple as a Hall of Fame would have bipartisan support. That likely was the case until the initial list of honorees was released, one that was not only devoid of women and people of color, but one that also included a number of individuals who fought in armed insurrection against the United States of America during the Civil War.
The list, compiled by retired Army Colonel and current Florida Veterans Affairs head Mike Prendergast, a former adviser to Governor Rick Scott, includes six former governors who fought for the Confederate States of America. The most ignominious of the former Confederates is former Governor Abraham Allison, who later served six months in jail for “intimidating Negroes” in 1872 during the height of Reconstruction.
Adding further insult, no women made the list despite the fact that several prominent women, including female astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, trained and flew missions from Cape Canaveral on Florida’s Space Coast.
Curiously, Florida’s current governor, Rick Scott, did make the list for his brief 29 month stint in the U.S. Navy.
When considering that the list lacks any semblance of the diverse number of Floridians who fought, bled and died in the service of our nation, one would think that the selection committee at least could have selected current Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, one of Florida’s leading black Republicans who rose to the rank of Lt. Commander during a distinguished 20 year career in the Navy.
“This is a good old boy list of good old boy governors” said Florida State Senator Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who added “We have Floridians of all colors who have not only earned the nation’s highest military honors but some who have made the ultimate sacrifice, yet we’re honoring racist governors…Rick Scott should be embarrassed by the recommendations.”
As I often lament, this is what happens when historical commemorations are led by individuals with limited vision, those who diminish the notion of diversity despite the fact that America was built—and defended—by a diverse lot. Senator Joyner poignantly asked “Are there really no better qualified military veterans black, white or Latino, male or female more deserving of such a tribute?”
I find even the insinuation that Florida cannot find individuals of color or women to honor patently offensive. My father Charles, a Miami native, was commissioned following his tenure in ROTC at Florida A&M University in 1963. I personally know countless men and women of color, including most of my dad’s FAMU ROTC classmates and subsequent students when he headed the same program in the 1980’s, who have served in every armed conflict since Vietnam. Tragically, I hold in solemn memory others who paid the ultimate sacrifice in these conflicts. Most hailed from or were educated in Florida. And their sacrifices are far more legendary than anything that I have done or Governor Rick Scott for that matter, from a military standpoint.
Fortunately, the public outcry concerning this blatant white wash of history reached such pitches that the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided to table implementation of the same until further review.
Seeking to mitigate the damage, a spokesman for the agency said the list is a “working draft and does not reflect the direction of the governor and Cabinet.” Director Prendergast issued a statement adding that “we are committed to including a diverse array of highly distinguished veterans of all eras who served Florida and the nation.”
For the sake of a Veteran’s Hall of Fame that is true in both deed and purpose, we can only hope that Prendergast is true to his words.