Two parade marchers whip up controversy

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Submitted by Anne H. Oman
Reporter-at-Large
May 12, 2014 5:37 p.m.

Sons of the Confederacy
A whip cracking member of the Sons of the Confederacy parades down Ash Street during the Shrimp Festival Parade.

Down Ash Street and up Centre Street streamed the annual Shrimp Fest Pirate Parade: Black-hatted buccaneers with the requisite eye patches, grizzled shrimpers skippering boats on wheels, sequin-tailed mermaids, marching bands, beauty queens, city officials, karate kids, a nursery school wearing hats the children had made. But — wait a minute – who’s that black-clad guy behind the Confederate soldiers who’s cracking two bull whips? And why is that pirate lookalike aiming guns at children and shooting smoke into their faces?

Some spectators expressed shock and distress at the inclusion of these two people in the parade.

In a Letter to the Editor of the News-Leader, Fernandina Beach resident Louryne Spaulding wrote that “part of history was the beating of slaves with the use of whips. I believe it was not intended to be offensive but people of color may have interpreted the cracking of the whips as degrading and a wicked period of time in our history.”

Kate Hart, the director of Miss Kate’s Pre-K, whose pupils marched in the parade, wrote in another Letter to the Editor: “Unbelievably, two individuals marching in the parade were brandishing weapons: one was aiming a gun into children’s faces and firing smoke at them, and the other was flicking a bullwhip. Really? How are these actions related to shrimping? How was this allowed to happen?”

*In a telephone interview, Ms. Hart added that one of her nursery school mothers complained that a gun-toting pirate “shot right in my son’s face.”

Other local residents expressed outrage on Facebook about the man with the whips, raising the specters of the Ku Klux Klan and of Bull Connor, who turned fire hoses and dogs on civil rights workers in the 1960s.

Fernandina Beach Mayor Ed Boner, who rode in the parade but did not see the offending participants, said in a telephone interview that “the pointing of guns at people is a really bad idea.”

“We are a diverse community,” he added. “We don’t like to offend anyone. We need to make judgment calls.”

Wayne Peterson, an African-American Fernandina resident who saw the parade, said he had talked to several city commissioners about the whip wielder and “they are aware of my concerns and said they would take care of the problem.”

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He would not say which commissioners he had contacted, but referred a reporter to Patricia Thompson, a former Fernandina Beach City Commissioner and Vice Mayor and a former NAACP chapter president.

Ms. Thompson called the whip display “so insensitive.”

“Anytime you do any injustice to any specific race, it’s an injustice to everyone,” she added. “We work hard to reduce racial tension – we don’t want to go backwards.”

Mark Deaton, who served as overall Festival Chairman this year said that “honestly I did not notice this float as I was quite busy with technical production during the parade.”

“I can say with some certainty that neither the committee nor the city administration pre-approved this activity, and I regret it slipped by us,” he added.

Similarly, Billie Childers, who chaired the parade, said she was not aware of the whip and would not have permitted it.

“The fact was not listed in the Sons of Confederate Veterans parade application, nor did I see him during the lineup. They did have special permission to fire once in front of the judge’s stand,” she said. “I will inform them that the whip will not be allowed in the future. I certainly don’t want to offend anyone attending the parade.”

The official parade rules state that “all parade entries are required to commemorate the shrimping industry by adhering to the Pirate Parade theme which is ‘Home of the Shrimpers’” and that “inappropriate conduct is basis for automatic disqualification and removal from the parade…This will include, but is not limited to, endangering or the potential of endangering anyone along the parade route or non-compliance to the parade guidelines…”

No attempts were made to remove anyone from the parade.

The black-clad man marched as part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans contingent of gray-uniformed soldiers carrying Confederate flags and antique rifles. Bob Sieg of that organization identified the mystery man as “Doc Gibson.”

When told that the bull whips were interpreted by some as an offensive reference to slaves being beaten, Mr. Sieg denied that any reference to slavery was intended.

“Give me a break!” he protested. “Doc Gibson is a minister!”

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He said that the whips were meant to represent whips used to round up stray cattle to provide meat for Confederate soldiers.

“Florida was the breadbasket of the Confederacy,” he explained. “They cracked whips to capture the cattle – that’s where the term ‘cracker’ comes from…. . We’re neither a racial nor a political group. We just want to keep our heritage and our history alive. The Civil War wasn’t about slavery – it was about states’ rights.”

Mr. Gibson, reached by phone, said that he was dressed as “a Florida cracker – part of the cow cavalry that supplied cattle to the troops.
They weren’t out there whipping slaves. There is no slavery issue here.”

He added that he had marched as a cracker in a University of Florida parade, and decided to bring his whips with him to Fernandina.

“My great-grandfather fought in the Civil War from Texas,” he said. “He was too poor to own a horse – no less a slave. He fought for states’ rights – not slavery.”

The identity of the smoke-shooting pirate could not be ascertained by press time.

Raymond Arsenault, a former Fernandina Beach resident who is now John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History and Politics at the University of South Florida, said that “the unfortunate intrusion of whips and firearms into the annual Shrimp Fest Pirate Parade represents a misuse of history by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.” He called the claim that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and not slavery “patently absurd” and suggested that the “group should spend more time doing research in the public library and less time out on the streets scaring children and evoking mythic and misleading images of a tortured past.”

* N.B. Since this article was published, two parents have indicated that the people shooting the smoke guns were dressed not as pirates but as Confederate soldiers.  We are investigating and will report back when we have more information.

Editor’s Note: Anne H. Oman relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications. We thank Anne for her contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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20 Responses to Two parade marchers whip up controversy

  1. Ronnie Stoots says:

    While not opossed nor for the whip at a parade, I do want to comment on the Professors statement. I have studied history and Abraham Lincoln was a white supremist. He stated in his first presidential debate that they were beneath white men and could not have place with us.
    The Civil War was not about slavery…

  2. Ben Lloyd says:

    I’m indifferent to the whip, but pointing guns in the face of children is just wrong. They may think they can get a real gun and shoot it at someone and smoke will come out. Guns should not be allowed at the Shrimp Fest. The cannons shot off by the pirates are OK. They give a warning, and they go up in the air. And kids can’t get a hold of cannons like they do guns! Otherwise, great parade!

  3. Dave Scott says:

    Based on the comments in this publication’s “Two parade marchers whip up controversy,” letters to the editor of the Fernandina Beach News-Leader and Facebook comments, it appears that common sense has taken a leave of absence for some Thursday, May 1 Shrimp Festival parade watchers.
    I didn’t see the guy who is alleged to have pointed a “gun at kids and blew smoke in their faces,” but I did see the guy cracking the whip, and I – along with folks around me that included many children – thought he was entertaining and I didn’t hear a single complaint. On the contrary, he was applauded.
    The comments made by the letter writers and those quoted in Anne H. Omen’s article are so outrageously loony, I could throw a deck of cards out the window and wait for someone to come by and pick up the three of diamonds to find a person with better reasoning power than these folks who said “the man with the whips, raised the specters of the Ku Klux Klan and of Bull Connor, who turned fire hoses and dogs on civil rights workers in the 1960s.”
    Based on this kind of convoluted thinking, dogs, firemen, fire trucks, bulls, Southern sheriffs, among others should all be banned from future parades as they are reminiscent of slavery and the Jim Crow era. And, by all means anything associated with a whip should never be allowed including Lash LaRue, Indiana Jones, jockeys, circus ring masters, lion tamers, ox-cart and mule-team wagon drivers, cattle drovers and more. And forget about displaying the Christian cross, a symbol appropriated by the Klan.
    And since it appears the Confederate flag offended some watching the parade as well, let’s ban the Stars & Stripes too since slavery was legal under “old Glory” for more than 70 years.
    But, here’s a better idea, let’s sit back and enjoy the next parade, that so many of our fellow citizens worked so hard to put together for us. I seriously doubt anyone involved in organizing the event or anyone entering it, had a racist thought or intended to offend anyone, just the opposite. I would also encourage Shrimp Festival Chairman Mark Deaton not to waste his time responding to these foolish people.
    I also suggest that these offended observers save their moral indignation for slave-holder David Yulee, who built a cross-state railroad on the backs of black slaves and was imprisoned as a traitor following the Civil War, and who a group of locals are honoring with a statue in front of the downtown restored train station. Now there’s a cause that they can direct their sputtering criticism at and actually have facts on their side. I bet Yulee owned a gun and a whip too.

    Dave Scott
    Fernandina Beach

    • Joan Bond says:

      Help me to understand the protest about the guy with the whip. This is part of history. My God what are these people thinking. I totally agree with you Dave, that protests have gone a little too far. I’m sure the kids enjoyed this part of the parade. So adults should keep their mouth shut and let the little one’s enjoy.

    • Ron Rushford says:

      Dave Scott hit it dead on!
      We as a society have allowed ourselves to be too sensitive to things! We are all too afraid to say or do anything for fear our thoughts or intents will be twisted and misconstrued. I am absolutely certain nobody intended people to think about slavery and or whipping black slaves, especially the gentleman performing for your entertainment, and including the event organizers.
      If you were offended by that display, that by all rights innocent performance, perhaps you need to look deeper inside your head and see where the real discrimination and prejudices are laying!

  4. Ben Martin says:

    War is economic in nature and the “War Between the States” was about clashing economic interests.

    Slavery was an enterprise that was criminal and evil. But the cause of the war seems not to be about slavery, but more about extending a tax jurisdiction for manufacturing interests in the North. The agrarian South imported quality textiles and manufactured items from Europe that were less expensive. Northern manufacturing interests succeed in imposing a tariff on European imports in the name of “National Interests.” It was a situation where the law was used to enrich one group of citizens over another. Today this kind of thing is called “corporatism.”

    In the “Creature from Jeckyll Island” by author Edward Griffin – Lincoln is reported to have said:

    “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

    The two video links below relate to Corporatism. Could the city council pass a resolution to make this required viewing in Fernandina High Schools?

    • Ben Martin says:

      War is economic in nature and the “War Between the States” was about clashing economic interests.

      Slavery was an enterprise that was criminal and evil. But the cause of the war seems not to be about slavery, but more about extending a tax jurisdiction for manufacturing interests in the North. The agrarian South imported quality textiles and manufactured items from Europe that were less expensive. Northern manufacturing interests succeed in imposing a tariff on European imports in the name of “National Interests.” It was a situation where the law was used to enrich one group of citizens over another. Today this kind of thing is called “corporatism.”

      In the “Creature from Jeckyll Island” by author Edward Griffin – Lincoln is reported to have said:

      “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

  5. Jeffrey Bunch says:

    This is totally wrong in so many ways, everyone knows what that flag represents in the minds of these ignorant people who were raised by their parents to not mingle with blacks, if you don’t then you’re just as ignorant. I grew up right here in FB and I knew what that flag represented and that was pure hatred for the blacks, maybe not in your town but here, that was it.
    I wonder why no one from the parade committee removed them as soon as they saw what was happening, obviously none of them are from the south. Ms. Childers stated that the “whip will not be allowed again”, how about the sons of the confederacy not be allowed! I’m so ashamed of my town for not demanding disbarment and so dislike what Shrimp Fest has become, thank goodness I can choose not to participate in either.

  6. tony cawford says:

    This Shouldn’t be a debate about the role slavery played with respect to the civil war. It’s not about children thinking a cracking whip is a form of entertainment, and it’s not about fire trucks or old Indiana Jones. The City, nor the Shrimp Fest organizers, can be held accountable for the actions of any particular group. There is no dress rehearsal for the parade. It’ about common sense and the lack of it.
    To start with, having a gun pointed at or near children in today’s world not only lacks any resemblance of common sense, it goes to the point of total absence of adult responsibility. With the amount of gun violence in schools today and what the education system has been teaching with respect to the actions that students need to take should they ever be confronted by a “nut” with a gun, to aim a gun at a child’s face is just not acceptable. Call it a momentary lapse, or just not understanding the situation at that moment, or getting caught up in the festivities. Take responsibility for it.
    As far as the whip. What do we have here? We have the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which I am sure has the best intentions at heart, marching with a guy in black, who some might think it is the dress of a plantation owner. This guy is cracking a whip, which no matter what history book you read, or professor you believe, was used to whip slaves. Now, when you define the word cracker it does relate to cattle, but that is not the full disclosure of the word. It also relates to slave foremen who whipped slaves.
    Lets get back to the common sense part. Guy in black, looking like a Master, marching under the Sons of Confederate Veterans, cracking a whip. Is the average Person, white or black, going to think this has anything to do with a cow? I was offended as a white person when I read this.
    I will give this group the benefit of the doubt that their intentions were good. That being said, they should understand that this could have, and was taken as a very offensive display. I have read their responses, but not one word of apology to the community.

  7. Ben Martin says:

    Since the Sons of Confederate Veterans, are most likely concerned about States Rights, Constitutional Rights, etc., they should consider inviting The New Jersey Weedman to the next Parade, and letting him lead their float – and all the animosity is likely to go up in smoke. Good people come in all colors. The content of a man’s character is more important than the color of his skin. In a certain fashion, this man is a modern day Confederate. Why can’t we get a guy like this for President? It is probably because he is not backed by Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Banking, etc. Please check out the video linked below.

    New Jersey Weedman – A modern day Confederate?

    • Ben Martin says:

      Mr. Crawford

      Part of one of my earlier messages and a link got deleted. The link was about tariffs to benefit one small special interest group. I am re-posting it. Please keep in my mind that the article we are commenting on did address the cause of the civil war.

      Why is there corn in your coke?

      My feelings about the whip are mixed. Maybe the guy should have brought some cattle along so his theatrics could be better interpreted? Stirring up animosity is never a good thing. Blessed are the peacemakers.

  8. tony cawford says:

    Why is it we are discussing history here? This has absolutely nothing to do with textiles, taxes, or Europe. It also has nothing do with with what a dead President “reportedly” said.
    This has to do with a guy who looked to be dressed as a slave master walking down a main street in the south, belonging to The Sons of Confederate Veterans group, snapping a whip. Is it really that far of a stretch of anyone’s imagination that this could be seen by many as inappropriate. If we as a tourist friendly small town can’t understand this was offensive to whites, blacks, and most who I have spoken to, we still have a long way to go here. Everyone can dig up all the history they want, but at the end of the day it won’t come close to masking that this was not the in the best interest of anyone. I am sure it was not an intentional display to upset folks by this group, but lets not hide behind a history book, or reported words from Mr Lincoln to erase the fact this could and rightfully so upset so many.

    • Ben Martin says:

      Mr. Crawford

      I certainly respect your concern for the sensitivities of others. No one needs to stir up animosity. We are on the same side there.

      The article quoted a history professor who said that the notion that the Civil War was about States Rights is “patently absurd.”

      Yet if the truth were know about the cause of the war – extending a tax jurisdiction – more people would do critical thinking about taxes, war, subsidies and corporate welfare. And that would be good for everyone, except maybe small groups of people who benefit from our ignorance on history and current events.

  9. tony cawford says:

    Ben,
    Too be totally honest, I think most can figure out, the issue has nothing to do with with your argument. If you are on the same side and you are sensitive to the issue at hand, please tell everyone that. Tell us it was a mistake, plain and simple, that this whole “whip” incident happened. I am not creating one bit of animosity by challenging your views. I don’t care about issues brought up with respect to the civil war. It is not the issue at hand. Please address the issue that created this debate–and ask yourself a few simple questions. Was it proper in today’s world to do this? If you had the change to turn back the clock, would you have left the “whip” in the parade. I really appreciate your input and looking forward, as I am sure many are, to your response.

  10. Joe Palmer says:

    I’m the person who posted my feelings about the bull whip cracking plantation master on FaceBook and compared it to having Bull Connor look alikes in the parade turning fire hoses and siccing police dogs on people of color watching the parade. I made this post a couple of weeks ago and had intended to write my Cup of Joe column this week about it. However, out of the deepest respect for parade chair Billie Childers, I decided to postpone it in order to give her the opportunity to investigate the matter and get to the bottom of it. Now that she has done so, I will write about it in my column next week. Why? Because I don’t think it appropriate to let this terrible thing die an easy death. It needs to be very publicly kicked to the curb and trampled upon and the best way to do that is to make sure the public is as informed as possible.

    I was contacted by Susan Steger several days ago and advised that one of the FO reporters who read my Facebook post was going to do a story on this and I gave it my blessings. Anne Oman did a great job of presenting it in a straightforward and factual manner. And next week, I will have my say publicly about it, despite some of the unhinged comments I’ve read about this article, one being an apparently racist and misogynistic person who has a history of slurring everyone from people of color to immigrants to women and our gay brothers and sisters. I chuckled when I read this person’s comments because, as usual, the writer uses a combination of ad hominem personal attacks, misdirection and pathetic straw man arguments to bolster the writer’s usual drivel.

    Unless this writer was comatose, I don’t know how the writer could’ve missed the groans and horrified looks of other parade watchers when the black clad plantation “massah” strutted by cracking his twin whips. As a Shrimp Festival official, I sat in the viewing stands and watched the parade. I never once saw or heard anyone cheer or applaud bull whip man’s ugly actions. All I heard was a deafening thud of silence falling among parade watchers in my vicinity. In fact, I sat next to a high ranking law enforcement officer who caught my attention, looked at me and shook his head in dismay.

    As for the Sons of Confederate Veterans pathetic assertion that bullwhip man was a representation of men who used bullwhips to round up cattle to feed confederate soldiers, that explanation smells like the stuff the male members of that particular species deposits in abundance in the pastures where they dwell. Really? A guy dressed up like Colonel Sanders in black going about the hot, dirty work of cattle round ups? Maybe cowboys but a representation of the stereotypical plantation master? Bull hockey. And of course, the old states rights argument gets trotted out again. The bottom line is this and it’s as plain as the bars and stars of the confederate battle rag: In the absence of slavery, there would’ve been no civil war.

    Anyone in this day and age who didn’t or wouldn’t hear the not so silent dog whistle represented by a bullwhip’s inclusion in a display of CSA re-enactors is either stupid or a liar or both. The whip isn’t only offensive to people of color. It’s also offensive to white people who were abused and intimidated by the Ku Klux Klan’s use of it and cross burnings to intimidate those perceived to by the to be “N-word lovers.” It was also used against Catholics and Jews by the same organization of hooded men who feel so strongly about their beliefs that they hide their faces from those they persecute. Of course, I don’t aspire to either enlighten or convert the particularly gassy letter writer above. Some apples are so rotten to the core that they just have to be tossed out with the rest of the trash.

    Thank you Fernandina Observer for your fair and balanced coverage of this issue and I’m flattered that my Facebook remarks were referenced. Stay tuned for my Cup of Joe column next week. And then stay tuned for the ding-a-ling responses to it and from one person in particular, who I’m betting won’t be able to resist taking the bait and thus getting hooked in the big mouth, per usual. Come to think of it, I’m willing to bet this person won’t be able to resist hotly responding to this post, either. I welcome it. As the old saying goes, ’tis a fool who brings a stick to a gunfight.

    • Ben Martin says:

      “Soft words turn away wrath” – Proverbs

      With all this commentary about the parade, it seems that the one comment that should really be respected was made by Patricia Thompson. She said…..

      ““Anytime you do any injustice to any specific race, it’s an injustice to everyone,” she added. “We work hard to reduce racial tension – we don’t want to go backwards.”

      Ms. Thompson did not lash out with anger or hostility.

      Teaching that the cause of the Civil War was slavery, seems to be untrue, seems to be a step backwards, and seems to dumb all of us down. It is an undisputed fact of History that the Emancipation Proclamation did not happen until 2 years after the start of the war, and it did not free slaves in the neutral border states. What is wrong with that picture?

      The influence of special interest groups in government (“Corporatism”) is detrimental to all races. Another video concerning corporatism is linked below. Please watch it and spread it around.

      “The wicked hate the light….” John 3:20

      What is in my milk?

  11. Joe Palmer says:

    Mr. Martin, in the absence of slavery and slave states, there would’ve been no Civil War. I would encourage you to go back to your history and read from some of the archives of Southern states regarding the institution of slavery at the time and its relevance in the secessionist movement. For starters, take Mississippi. A Declaration from its January 1861 state convention on whether to secede from the Union states: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest in the world.” Surely, that line of reasoning was not limited to Mississippi, but to all slave holding states. I repeat, but for slavery, there never would’ve been a Civil War. The economic policies and differences of the time would’ve been resolved absent bloodshed. But the South dug in its heels over the slavery issue and fired the first shots of the Civil War.

  12. Tony Crawford says:

    This is better than History 101. The problem Mr Martin is this whole parade issue can’t be spun, —O’ Reilly couldn’t spin his way out of this one. The simple fact is—it was perceived as being outrageous. It was outrageous. Lincoln had nothing to do with it. Capitalism had nothing to do with it. Manufacturing had nothing to do with it. I will tell you however what had something to do with it. The fact a guy in a small southern town, under a Confederate group, dressed in black, was walking down Main Street snapping a bull whip. That’s what it has to do with.—-simple!! We all can Google the Civil War and get all the information we want about the facts of the war. That unfortunately has nothing to do with this topic and all the smoke and mirrors and spin will not hide what happened and how it was perceived by very many in our town and unfortunately others who came that day to celebrate, eat some shrimp, drink some beer, buy some art and enjoy themselves. It was an embarrassment, it offended many. The only thing this has to do with is good old fashioned common sense and respect for those who’s Grandfathers and Grandmothers were slaves. Again I would ask, are you sorry this happened and if you could go back, would you have allowed this to happen. No History lesson needed, just your thoughts on this incident.

  13. Bruno Preuss says:

    Just another Fernandina Beach class act.

Comments are closed.